Citizen Feedback, Ride-hailing Negotiations Progress as Clock Ticks on Pilot Programs

It was all smiles when Lyft and Uber came back to San Antonio. - Via Twitter/Ivy Taylor
Via Twitter/Ivy Taylor
It was all smiles when Lyft and Uber came back to San Antonio.
With Transportation Network Company (TNC) tension looming from Austin and Houston, the City of San Antonio is preparing its push to renegotiate with ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft. And one of the officials taking the lead on the talks believes they'll be a model for other municipalities to follow.

"It's important that we move forward and set the example. And I think we're about to for the entire state and possibly the entire country," said City Councilman Roberto Treviño at a meeting of the City Council Governance Committee. Treviño has spearheaded much of the City's negotiations with TNCs.  

Lyft and Uber left San Antonio in March 2015, after City Council mandated that drivers undergo fingerprint background checks. After a spring and summer without the services, a 9-month pilot compromise was struck to bring them back: The checks were made voluntary, with the City footing the bill for those who wished to undergo them. If a driver submitted to a fingerprint background check, they'd receive a special designation on the app's screen.

The deal was portrayed as a win for consumer choice and TNCs alike. But few drivers have undergone the voluntary checks. There's also no way to specifically hail a driver with a fingerprint background check, so passengers who want one must repeatedly hail a ride, then cancel it until they're picked up by a fingerprinted driver.

Councilman Joe Krier said he hadn't heard of "a single ... bad experience with Uber or Lyft" from constituents. But Councilman Mike Gallagher expressed concerns over if citizens understood how to identify whether a driver has passed the fingerprint check.

"I almost wonder if we need to strengthen the ordinance with something that says 'Caution: Driver has not passed fingerprint background check,'" Gallagher said.

The pilot program agreement with Uber will end in July, while Lyft's will end in September. The agreement with another TNC, GetMe, will expire in October. But Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh said that City staff would try to align all three companies' expiration dates, likely in October.

Negotiations for a new deal take place in the shadow of what's occurred in Austin and Houston. Both companies abruptly pulled out of the state's capital after an expensive fight over a ballot initiative didn't break in their favor, and would have paved the way for fingerprint checks. Lyft won't operate in Houston because of similar regulations, and Uber hasn't threatened to leave as well.

The city will hold two "Rideshare Roundtables" to give citizens a chance to weigh in: one on Wednesday, May 18 from 5:30-7pm at St. Margaret Mary's Church Activity Center (1314 Fair Ave.), the other on Wednesday, June 1 from 5:30-7pm at TriPoint YMCA Grantham Hall (3233 N. St. Mary's St.). There's also an online survey where people can weigh in.

City Council will receive a briefing on the citizen feedback and status of negotiations on June 15.
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