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For immediate release:
Oct. 16, 2014
Contact: 
Leah Bojo, Office of Council Member Chris Riley
512-974-2260 (office), 512-665-1570 (cell) leah.bojo@austintexas.gov

 

Supporters Applaud Council Member Riley’s Ordinance to Legalize Peer-to-Peer Transportation Network Companies, Like Uber & Lyft

The Austin City Council today passed Council Member Chris Riley’s ordinance to legalize Peer-to-Peer Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber & Lyft.

Today’s action marked the third and final reading of the ordinance. The City Manager is now directed to negotiate contracts within the next 30 days with TNCs that meet the public safety, information-sharing, and ADA requirements outlined in the ordinance. TNCs have been operating outside the city’s regulations but will now adhere to stringent requirements. 

Riley stated, “I’m glad that we were able to negotiate one of the strongest ordinances in the country on behalf of our constituents. Many cities across the country that have legalized TNCs have focused on the important public safety improvements, but they didn’t also secure information-sharing commitments from the TNCS to report outcomes back to the city or work to provide equivalent ADA accessible services. Today’s groundbreaking agreement will elevate the Austin TNC model as an example for other cities to follow.”

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, co-sponsor of the ordinance, added, “The City Council has received more constituent feedback on this item than almost any issue we’ve dealt with over the last several years. It’s clear there is overwhelming support in the community for more transportation options, and today’s victory demonstrates that when citizens make their voices heard, they get results.”

Grover Bynum, Senior Advisor to the Austin Technology Council, elaborated on the importance of the information sharing agreement. “Public policy is strengthened by modern tools.” said Bynum. “Data and data transparency are keys to evaluating whether our taxpayer dollars are being used wisely and whether government regulations are creating their desired effects. Regarding TNCs, Uber & Lyft have been operating in the dark for the last several months without providing any data to review. So we applaud Council Member Riley for negotiating one of the strongest data sharing agreements in the country so the City can better analyze how TNCs fit into our larger transportation system. Austin is a proven innovation leader, and it’s great to see City leaders leveraging innovation to improve government and address old problems.”

In addition to the data requirements, the ordinance also offers hope for traditionally underserved communities. 
David Wittie, member of the grassroots disability rights group ADAPT, offered additional praise, “We’ve been frustrated by the inadequate level of ADA-friendly services provided by the current taxi system. With this TNC ordinance, we’re optimistic about the opportunity for all Austin citizens to have improved accessible transportation options. Today’s victory is a positive step in the right direction.”

“TNC drivers like me often serve the neighborhoods we live in,” said Alfredo Santos, a driver for Lyft. “Over the last month, I’ve noticed more and more of my passengers are people of color, and I appreciate Council Member Riley’s efforts to develop a solution that will better serve all Austinites. In the past, minority neighborhoods have struggled to get adequate taxi service, but TNCs provide a more inclusive peer-to-peer model and hope for a better future.”

Several community leaders spoke up in favor of the public safety benefits provided by TNCs.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving State Director Jaime Gutierrez said, “Safety is our number one concern, and TNCs can help offer more designated driver options. If we can prevent one more family from suffering from a drunk driving tragedy, then this TNC ordinance will have made an important difference.”
Sara LeVine from ATX Safer Streets said, “Over 30,000 Austinites have signed petitions supporting this ordinance because it provided citizens more options to get home safely. We’re appreciative that City Council today has taken a big step towards improving public safety.”
“It’s simple math. There aren’t enough taxis to meet consumer demand, and if we want to reduce drunk driving, we need to legalize TNCs now,” said Austin Police Association President Wayne Vincent. “It’s a better use of our public safety resources to target drunk drivers instead of impounding cars of sober TNC drivers who are trying to provide safe rides home.”

Stephen Roberts, Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) Public Safety Chair says, “The DAA supports this proposal because, every night in downtown Austin, people who should not be driving are. They can't get a taxi. Neither can our visitors. This is a serious safety issue which harms our community and requires an immediate solution. It is time to see if ride sharing services can help provide that solution.”

“The Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA) encourages the creation of policies that allow for regulated operation of TNCs.  Ride share, like car share and bike share, can be a wonderfully convenient, practical, and affordable transportation option when well managed.  We're glad to see TNCs added to Austin's growing list of 21st Century transportation solutions,” states Pamela Power, President of DANA.

Today’s victory marks the culmination of over a year’s work by various community stakeholders. In March 2013 Council Member Riley sponsored a resolution approved by City Council that asked staff for a report on best practices for ridesharing regulations in Austin’s peer cities. The subsequent report, provided in May 2013, indicated that there were no good examples nationally for allowing TNCs at that time.

In August 2013 staff issued an addendum to that report recommending against allowing the operation of TNCs. Since that time, though, much has changed with regard to TNC operations across the country. As a result, the City’s Urban Transportation Commission created a sub-group focusing on TNCs, and their recommendations formed the baseline of Riley’s ordinance.
Most recently, the City Council also created a TNC Working Group in May 2014. Shortly afterwards, Uber and Lyft began operations in Austin, outside of the City’s existing regulations. Going forward, the TNC Working Group will continue operating over the next few months and will use the data resulting from Riley’s ordinance to inform their long term recommendations. Riley’s temporary ordinance will be superseded once Council adopts the longer term recommendations from the TNC Working Group.
Urban Transportation Commissioner Rich MacKinnon commented, “The UTC has spent several years working to improve local taxi services and it's been slow-going. 

Over the last 18 months, the TNCs’ entrance has focused the taxi industry’s urgency to reform itself.  I am glad that Council Member Riley’s ordinance incorporates many of the suggestions that came out of the UTC committee’s work.  Recently, UTC voted 5-2 in favor of piloting a legal path for TNCs as well as providing the taxi industry with the regulatory leeway necessary to adapt to the changing marketplace.  I'm pleased our multi-year effort to improve taxi services, and the lengthy public input process and stakeholder meetings have culminated in today’s successful City Council vote.”

The City of Austin’s TNC Working Group’s User Representative, Eric Goff, praised Riley’s efforts, “Unfortunately, our TNC Working Group had hit a wall in the negotiations. The taxis weren’t willing to budge and give up their monopoly on ground transportation services, and the TNCs weren’t willing to share information or make concessions on ADA improvements. But thanks to Council Member Riley’s leadership, we’ve broken through this logjam. The TNCs have now come to the negotiating table and are willing to participate in the city’s regulatory process. These new data and ADA requirements will better inform our transportation policies and provide lessons for both TNCs and taxis going forward. Had Riley not stepped in, we’d still be stuck arguing the same points over and over without making any progress.”

“The UT Student Government conducted surveys across campus, and students overwhelmingly supported allowing TNCs like Uber and Lyft to operate in Austin,” says Kaitlyn Clark, TNC Working Group’s Student Representative. “Students responded that there is often a lack of transportation options at peak traffic hours, and taxis cannot meet student demand. Over half of the students who responded to our surveys admitted that they have been in car with an intoxicated driver, and they want better solutions. Based on this survey feedback, the UT Student Government overwhelmingly passed a resolution in support of legalizing TNCs. But when we presented this student feedback to the TNC Working Group, nothing happened. Thanks to Council Member Riley’s efforts, we’re finally seeing real action that will improve students’ lives.”

The ordinance passed first reading 6-1 at the September 25, 2014 Austin City Council Meeting and passed again 6-1 on second ready at the October 2, 2014 Council Meeting. Today’s third reading marks the final passage of the ordinance.
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