Uber in talks with city, three months after leaving Austin

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Rideshare company Uber met with policy directors of three Austin city council members on Tuesday to “reiterate [its] desire to work collaboratively with the city.” The talks come more than three months after Uber and Lyft stopped operating in Austin. 

“We hope that the Council will consider amending the ordinance to reflect a similar [transportation network company] framework adopted by 13 cities across Texas and 34 states across the country,” an Uber spokesperson said.

City Council Member Sheri Gallo downplayed the significance of the meeting, saying it was strictly to meet the company’s new public policy director for the Southeastern United States.

“It’s not an implication of anything else,” Gallo told KXAN over the phone Wednesday. “I think the new person gave them an opportunity to reconnect with the council offices. They asked if we would set up a meeting to meet their new person.”

“Yesterday afternoon, my Senior Policy Advisor Tina Cannon, along with staff members from the offices of Council Members Kitchen and Garza, met with the new public policy director for the Southeast, Trevor Theunissen,” Council Member Gallo said in a statement.

“Uber initiated the meeting in order for Mr. Theunissen to introduce himself to council members’ staff. I encourage Uber to provide their services to Austin residents and operate under the current regulations, as nine other transportation network companies have agreed to do,” she continued.

Gallo told KXAN she also has a meeting scheduled for Monday with a Lyft representative recently hired to handle government relations in the Austin area.

The company said in a statement, “We’re happy to continue meeting with Austin city council representatives to see how Lyft can return and improve service for riders and drivers. Things are not better today than they were a year ago.”

Uber and Lyft stopped operating in Austin on May 9, after Proposition 1 failed to pass in a 56 to 44 percent vote. Prop 1 would have continued standard background checks for drivers.

The two main ridesharing companies argued a mandatory fingerprint check for its drivers, supported by Mayor Steve Adler, was an unnecessary burden on their operations.

Even after the failure of Prop 1, there was not a clear plan for enforcing the new fingerprint rule. The city asked rideshare companies to have at least 50 percent of their drivers fingerprinted by Aug. 1 and virtually all of their drivers by Feb. 1, 2017.

Those flying into Austin are still surprised when they land and try to catch a ride. “I didn’t know there were any cities left with no Uber,” said Becky Evans.

She and her boyfriend, Maxx McDonald, have been doing more walking around the downtown area than they had planned, which they say is good for their health, but not so fun in the rain.

“I think [Uber] needs to continue trying,” said McDonald.

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