Rideshare petition signatures validated, could go to public vote

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s city clerk told City Council Tuesday that a rideshare petition has enough validated signatures to deem it “sufficient,” meaning council could decide to call an election and put the ordinance on the ballot May 7.

City Council now has 10 days to make a decision. The council can either accept the ordinance language from “Ridesharing Works for Austin” or call an election. The new language eliminates any requirement of a fingerprint background check for drivers. The petition filed with the city clerk had 26,320 signatures on 9,344 pages. A report presented during Tuesday’s work session estimated 25,384 of those submitted signatures are valid. The Texas Election Code authorizes use of random sampling to verify large petitions, like this one. In accordance with that law, the city clerk says 25 percent of the signatures were verified.

Mayor Steve Adler said, “I don’t like an election because an election is going to cost us as a community,” as innovative compromises that reward drivers would go by the wayside for the next two years. The mayor estimated the election would cost anywhere from $500,000 to $800,000.

On Tuesday evening, Adler sent out mass email proposing the idea of adopting a new ordinance altogether, called the Austin Innovation TNC Ordinance. The new ordinance “would specifically prohibit mandatory fingerprinting and clearly allow incentive programs such as the Thumb’s Up! badge,” explained Adler. Adler says this would not take anything away from Uber and Lyft drivers who choose not to participate but would still allow Austin to reward our rideshare drivers who choose to participate in fingerprinting. The new ordinance would still require an election in May.

At last week’s council meeting, rather than implement a phased-in approach to have rideshare drivers get mandatory fingerprint checks, council voted 7-4 on a separate ordinance to make it voluntary, with incentives. The new ordinance is part of Adler’s“Thumps Up!” program. If an Uber or Lyft driver decides to go through the fingerprint validation, the city will provide a badge for the driver and they will be eligible for incentives. The incentives have yet to be determined, but they could include access to areas into which Transportation Network Company (TNCs) drivers are currently not allowed, as well as financial incentives.

Council members will discuss the matter at its next two council meetings, within the 10-day limit. In its work session, council members discussed allowing public comment at those meetings with a firm start time to avoid people waiting around until 1:00 a.m. before they have a chance to speak. This would allow the public, beyond the roughly 25,000 who signed the petition, to share their thoughts about the possibility of the rideshare ordinance going to an election.Read the ordinance that Ridesharing Works for Austin submitted to the city clerk.

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