Councilmember Zimmerman says rules for ride-share companies are working

Uber driver picking up a passenger on Austin's 6th St. (Chris Nelson, KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- One Austin city council member says city policies for year-old transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft are sufficient despite a KXAN Investigation showing seven alleged sex assaults last spring and summer that police are currently looking into.

"The investigation and the information (gathering) needs to happen first," Councilmember Don Zimmerman and Mobility Committee member told KXAN's Robert Maxwell Monday.

After Monday's committee meeting, Maxwell asked Zimmerman: "So you're saying there's not a need to change the current safety policies of TNCs?"

"Based on the information we have now, no," responded Zimmerman. "We need APD [to] investigate and find out the nature of the crimes; if the crimes were really committed, how they were committed, that would give us some guidance."

The current rules stem from a pilot project that began in October of 2014 and allows TNCs to self regulate with modest city oversight.

Friday, KXAN revealed heavily-redacted police incident reports for a period between April and August this year. While names were blacked out due to the ongoing nature of the investigations, the reports mention Uber five times and Lyft twice. The reports also showed three alleged sex assaults by taxi drivers in the same time period.

The investigation brought public comment from council member and Mobility Committee Chair Ann Kitchen. "I do want to point to the fact that in recent news articles [there's talk] about a problem we do have in our city related to public safety. And related to assaults. Assaults both the police department has been investigating and Safe Place has been involved with." Kitchen has been advocating for all ground transportation providers licensed by the City of Austin to adhere to the same rules.

The Mobility Committee on Monday voted to recommend modified regulations for a full council vote in December. They include having drivers post a sign in their vehicle window showing they are a legitimate TNC driver. Excluded in Monday's vote was any final language on background checks. Council members are waiting to read a city transportation report comparing methods. It won't be complete until next week at the earliest.

Last month, the Austin City Council voted 9-2 to have TNC drivers pass a fingerprint background check and pay a fee before they receive a city chauffeur's license. Taxi drivers currently have to pass such a check. TNC operators say mandating a fingerprint check would be onerous on applicants in a business model that promotes short wait times.

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