Can We Talk About Uber and Lyft?

Here are four things I know for sure:

First, Austin is safer with ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft because they take drunk drivers off the streets and provide more transportation options, and I’m certainly not trying to get them to leave town.

Second, fingerprinting drivers enhances safety for passengers.

Third, the City Council voted to create safety incentives to increase the number of fingerprinted ridesharing drivers in Austin. On January 28, 2016, the City Council will discuss what those safety incentives and disincentives will be.

Fourth, this is Austin, the city that reinvented the assembly line, country music, dinner-and-a-movie, and grocery stores. This is not an either/or city. We can find a creative solution that both allows Uber and Lyft to stay in Austin while at the same time protects women from sexual assault. Within the framework of safety incentives and benchmarks that the City Council approved on Thursday, I believe we can accomplish these goals.

These are real safety concerns. At the Council meeting, Police Chief Art Acevedo said that ridesharing companies make Austin safer by providing rides home to folks who’ve had too much to drink. He also said, along with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that fingerprint background checks (in addition to the ridesharing companies current name-based background checks) increase the safety of Austin passengers. As the father of three daughters, I take seriously his professional opinion on all aspects of safety, and that means that ridesharing passengers must have a meaningful choice to use drivers who have had fingerprint background checks.

On Thursday, the City Council took no action to force out ridesharing companies. Instead, we set out a framework for increasing the supply of fingerprinted drivers and for developing a menu of safety incentives and penalties that would help us get from here to there. At the Council meeting in late January, we will decide the specifics of how to get from here to there.

We need our most creative and innovative minds engaged over the next five weeks to find the best way forward that reaches this goal while bringing our community together. I hope all the ridesharing companies participate in this conversation.  I am encouraged by the Lyft statement released after the Council vote:  “Lyft will operate in Austin until mandatory fingerprint requirements force us to leave. In the meantime, we will remain at the table in an effort to create a workable ordinance and preserve the benefits ridesharing brings to visitors and residents.”

When I ran for office it was to make sure that in Austin’s transition to the 10-1 system that we didn’t fall back into the old ways of dealing with new problems. The question of how to deal with ridesharing companies is an opportunity to chart a new, positive path that creates a solution by working together and respecting each other’s priorities. This is where you come in. We’ll need everyone’s help to get this done in a way that makes Austin safer while keeping ridesharing companies widely operating in Austin.

Austin is an innovative, creative city at the forefront of new technologies. How our city regulates business must work with the sharing economy that is driving change. At the same time, ensuring the safety of Austin is the Council’s job, and we want the sharing economy to work with us, not against us, when it comes to preventing sexual assault and drunk driving.

There is nothing that people want that Austin can’t make even better. What ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft do is great. By offering safety incentives to prevent sexual assault, Austin can make it even better.

Your Mayor,

Steve Adler