The State Legislature appears poised to approve statewide regulations covering Transportation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft, ending the confusing patchwork of local regulations which has frozen the firms out of some key cities, and prompted the companies to suspend operations in Austin, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) says a statewide regulation which is understandable and consistent is the only way to properly regulate the companies.
"Most TNC's in Texas are currently governed by an inconsistent patchwork of local regulations which very significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction," Schwertner said.
Nowhere was the confusion over regulations more evident than in Austin, where voters last year overturned the City Council and imposed stiff regulations on the firms, which prompted Uber and Lyft to suspend operations in Austin, although smaller locally operated TNC's remain.
Schwertner says, considering that a passenger may travel through eight separate cities on a trip from North Dallas to DFW Airprot, this is clearly an area where statewide regulations are needed.
"Transportation is, by its very nature, a regional concern that crosses political boundaries as essential characteristic," he said.
Some witnesses testified that it would make no sense if, for example, long haul truck drivers were allowed to drive down the Interstate in some states but not in others, and the federal government early on realized that nationwide regulation of interstate transportation was essential to economic growth.
Representatives of the TNC's said they would welcome statewide regulations, which would free them from the necessity of having to negotiate with each individual city. But an Uber representative stressed that the statewide regulations should not include onerous fingerprint background checks, which Uber has claimed dissuades people from wanting to drive for the company, and unfairly disqualifies people who have minor offenses completely unrelated to their driving ability in their past.
Schwertner says many times, local officials are beholden to the local taxi cab industry when it approves regulations.
"They are designed by city governments to prop up traditionally highly regulated and non competitive ride for hire services, like taxi cabs and limousines," he said.
San Antonio now has a creative compromise in place, where TNC drivers don't have to undergo the same 'ten point' fingerprint background check required of professional cabbies, but they can if they choose, and that information will be included on their 'driver platform,' with the idea that it will make them more desirable for people are are safety conscious, like a woman alone heading home late at night.
The TNC's say they are not transportation companies and they don't employ any drivers, they simply provide the technology to allow people to make extra money in their spare time driving paying passengers for profit with their own car.