Uber and Lyft drivers push voter registration before May election


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Supporters of Uber and Lyft, are trying to get voters to the polls for a May election. A measure on the ballot will let voters decide if they want to halt an Austin ordinance that phases in fingerprint background check for drivers using the ride-hailing apps.

“[Uber and Lyft have] been a big part of my experience here in Austin and I think it’s a great thing,” said Joshua Cruz, who drives for both Uber and Lyft. “I’ve seen it in cities where it’s not there and it’s very difficult to maneuver around.”

Cruz points to the safety the services provide by offering rides to people who might be intoxicated. He also believes that the current background checks for the companies are sufficient, a view the businesses share. Uber and Lyft have promised to leave Austin if are forced to use fingerprints to background checks their drivers.

Cruz believes the upcoming election is so important, he says he got deputized to register voters. He’s now signing people up to vote ahead of the May election.

“Truth is, Uber and Lyft are the ones threatening to leave because they won’t take an extra step to guarantee the safety of the people in Austin,” said Peck Young, a former political consultant and Austin Community College’s director of its Center for Public Policy and Political Studies.

Young believes ride-hailing companies are too involved in the process to overturn the ordinance voted on by an elected city council.

“The citizens of Austin ought to see through all this,” said Young. “This is no exercise in democracy. It’s exercise of corporate power.”

Financial records show Uber and Lyft have pledged $20,000 to Ridesharing Works for Austin, the political action committee behind the petition that got the measure on the ballot. The companies also gave more than $26,800 in non-monetary contributions such as consulting and staff time, according to the records.

“Uber and Lyft are obviously involved,” said Caroline Joiner, executive director of TechNet for Texas, in a previous interview. “Their drivers and users are directly impacted by this bad city ordinence. So they’re absolutely involved.

Supporters of Uber and Lyft point out cab companies also wield power in Austin. Council Member Ann Kitchen, who backed fingerprint background checks, received $4,000 in political contributions bundled by the president of Lone Star Cab, according to October 2014 financial records.

Ridesharing Works for Austin started what ATX Safer Streets, Austin Music People and an organization called TechNet joined together to fight the ordinance. They also gained the support of some bar and club owners and eventually said they gathered more that 65,000 signatures supporting the overturning of the council amendment that included fingerprint background checks.

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