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November 17th, 2016:

City reaches deal with Uber

From the inbox:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner today announced a comprehensive strategy to streamline the City’s vehicle-for-hire licensing process to ensure that Uber remains in Houston and that Houstonians and visitors have as many transportation options as possible during the upcoming Super Bowl. As part of the plan, Uber has committed to continuing operations in Houston with the use of fingerprint background checks through the Super Bowl.

“I am thrilled we can finally put this issue to rest and focus on the real task at hand—providing a great Super Bowl experience that shows off our City,” said Mayor Turner. “We’ve crafted a proposal that reduces the length and cost of a driver application but still protects public safety. This is a win for drivers and passengers alike. These changes will help make sure that visitors have a seamless experience during the Super Bowl and Houstonians have diverse transportation options to meet the growing needs of our city.”

As part of the agreement, the City will bring forward process-improvement changes to Chapter 46 of the City Code which regulates vehicles-for-hire such as taxis, limos, and TNCs (transportation network companies such as Uber). The streamlined changes will reduce the costs of licensing from nearly $200 to $70, cut the licensing process in half, and allow drivers to be licensed in under 20 minutes. The City’s policy on background checks will not change. The proposed changes are expected to come before City Council before the New Year.

Mayor Turner also announced the launch of Arro, the City’s official multimodal transportation app, which will help make the City’s fleet of over 9,000 taxi and limo drivers more readily accessible to the general public. Building on Top Taxi, Houston First’s initiative to improve the quality and customer service of Houston’s taxi industry, Arro will help transform the taxi experience in Houston.

“In a city as large and diverse as Houston, taxis and limos will always play a critical role in our transportation strategy,” said Turner. “Arro and Top Taxi will help modernize our taxi industry by making our fleet more efficient and equipping Houstonians with access to multiple forms of transportation at the push of a button.”

While initially offering taxi rides, Arro’s offerings will expand in the coming months to include limos, wheelchair accessible vehicles, and collaborations with other forms of vehicles-for-hire and METRO. Arro is available for download on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

“We are very excited to bring Arro’s consumer and driver friendly app to the people of Houston starting today. Arro’s presence is a significant step toward enhancing robust transportation options throughout Houston,” said Mike Epley, founder of Arro. “Our app has already enjoyed great success in several cities by offering a potential boost to drivers’ incomes and providing faster and easier transportation access for passengers. ”

“Houston First recognizes that reliable and safe transportation is essential to the city’s success as a destination,” says Dawn Ullrich, president and CEO of Houston First Corporation. “That’s why we launched the Top Taxi Program in 2015 to coach our taxicab drivers on delivering a better customer service experience. Now, Mayor Turner is taking it a step further with the implementation of Arro, which we believe will revolutionize the user experience with taxis in Houston. We’re excited to partner with the city on the ongoing Top Taxi program and the rollout of Arro.”

See here for the background on Arro. You may recall that Uber had threatened to leave Houston after the Austin rideshare referendum was voted down, but since those initial rumblings there hasn’t been much from either them or the city. While Council members were not lining up to support Uber in this, there was some concern expressed about the availability of vehicle-for-hire services during the Super Bowl; Arro’s development was in part a hedge against that. This agreement means that those worries can be laid to rest.

The larger fight remains unresolved, however.

The fingerprint check – as opposed to the company’s preferred Social Security number-based check – has been the major disagreement since Houston legitimized the ride providing companies in November 2014.

“Our stance hasn’t changed in any way on fingerprinting,” said Trevor Theunissen, public policy manager for Uber in Texas. “This is a compromise to improve the driver licensing process so we can get through the Super Bowl.”

The deal does not, however, slow efforts by Uber and state lawmakers to develop statewide transportation rules during the upcoming legislative session. Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed a bill Monday to create statewide transportation rules for companies like Uber, but keeps taxis regulated at the local level.

Here’s Sen. Schwertner’s statement about the city’s deal with Uber. You know, I’m old enough to remember a time when it was considered “conservative” to value local government over state or federal government, on the grounds that local government was closer to the people and thus more responsive to their needs and accountable to their votes. That just sounds so adorable now. I mean, what could we Houstonians know about our wants and needs compared to a Senator from Williamson County? So until the Legislature crushes it underneath their mighty boots, chalk up another accomplishment for Mayor Turner.

UPDATE: The Press has more.

SBOE rejects that lousy Mexican-American studies textbook

Nice.

The State Board of Education voted 14-0 Wednesday to deny the adoption of a Mexican-American studies textbook decried by opponents as racist and inaccurate.

The textbook, titled “Mexican American Heritage,” was the only submission the board received when it made a 2015 call for textbooks for high school social studies classes, including Mexican-American studies.

But critics say the book is riddled with factual, “interpretive” and “omission” errors and doesn’t meet basic standards for use in classrooms.

Wednesday’s vote wasn’t the last step, as the board will take a final vote Friday. The only board member not present for the vote was David Bradley. In emails obtained through a state open records request by Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning advocacy group, the Beaumont Republican had written that a “lack of quorum on [the book] would be nice. Deny the Hispanics a record vote. The book still fails.”

With as much dignity and gravity as I can muster, I say “Neener neener” to you, David Bradley. It’s what you deserve.

The Chron reports on the hearing at which opponents of the textbook far outnumbered its supporters.

State education board members on Tuesday grilled the publisher of a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook about alleged errors, all but promising to reject the proposed book later this week.

Members of the State Board of Education are poised to vote Friday on whether to adopt “Mexican American Heritage,” a textbook that university professors and historical experts argue is riddled with errors, cherry-picks sources and claims immigrants have radical ideas that pose a cultural and political threat to American society.

“This book offers one thing. It offers hatred. It offers hate toward Mexican-Americans,” said Ruben Cortez Jr., a member from Brownsville.

Board members from both parties spent nearly two hours of a public hearing peppering Momentum Instruction CEO and owner Cynthia Dunbar about reported errors in the proposed textbook.

“You have submitted a textbook that will be rejected” from landing on the state’s preferred textbook list, said board member Erika Beltran, D-Fort Worth, who criticized Dunbar for failing to recall the credentials of the book’s authors. “We’re not just talking about a textbook on Mexican-American heritage, we’re talking about the education of 5 million kids.”

[…]

Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who said in September the book was “dead on arrival,” stressed the board needs to focus on the errors that Dunbar has refused to fix.

“I’m not a scientist, but I know enough to know that communism does not cause natural disasters,” said Ratliff, referring to a passage in the textbook that links the two. Dunbar said the passage was “not a verified factual error,” then later agreed to change the sentence.

Emilio Zamora, a University of Texas at Austin professor who reviewed the text, accused the authors and publisher of arrogance by refusing to acknowledge the problems.

“Not once do they agree with any of our findings of error – not once,” said Zamora, shaking his fist behind a podium before the state board. He and a team of professors reported finding 407 errors in the book’s latest version.

See here and here for some background, and here for the report on how crappy this textbook was that SBOE member Ruben Cortez’s ad hoc committee put together. This issue won’t go away for long. The SBOE will put out another call for a hopefully non-crappy textbook, so there should be more submissions in the future. And just to make this all the more fun, to-be-rejected publisher Dunbar is threatening a lawsuit if she gets rejected, because by God you just don’t do that in Donald Trump’s America. Or something like that. The Trib, the Observer, the Current, the Texas Freedom Network, the DMN, and the Austin Chronicle have more.

What do our elected officials think about the plan to kill off Medicare?

Hey, remember when this was a major campaign issue?

With all the other things we’ve discussed so far today, I wanted to return to one critical one. It’s not about mights or maybes or fears of what’s to come. It’s about what’s coming just after President-Elect Trump’s inauguration. Paul Ryan has been pushing to phase out Medicare and replace it with private insurance for several years. But now it’s real with unified Republican government. He just said he will try to rush it through early next year while repealing Obamacare.

[…]

I’ve heard a few people say that it’s not 100% clear here that Ryan is calling for Medicare Phase Out. It is 100% clear. Ryan has a standard, openly enunciated position in favor of Medicare Phase Out. It’s on his website. It’s explained explicitly right there.

Ryan says current beneficiaries will be allowed to keep their Medicare. Says. But after the cord is cut between current and future beneficiaries, everything is fair game. For those entering the system, Ryan proposes phasing out Medicare and replacing it private insurance with subsidies to help seniors afford the private insurance. That is unquestionably what it means because that is what Ryan says. So if you’re nearing retirement and looking forward to going on Medicare, good luck. You’re going to get private insurance but you’ll get some subsidies from the government to pay the bill.

Through all the gobbledygook and bamboozlement, you’ll find this line on Ryan’s page: “For younger workers, when they become eligible, Medicare will provide a premium-support payment and a list of guaranteed coverage options – including a traditional fee-for-service option – from which recipients can choose a plan that best suits their needs.”

This means, if you haven’t gone on Medicare yet, when you do, you won’t get Medicare. You’ll get a “premium-support payment” – i.e., a check that will allow you to buy insurance from private insurers. The “support” in the phrase means it won’t cover the whole amount. And in any case, rather than Medicare you’ll have insurance from an insurance company, which everybody should love because haven’t you heard from your parents and grandparents how bummed they were when they had to give up their private insurance for Medicare?

You’ll hear lots of people calling this “reform” and other catchwords. But Medicare is a single payer, universal health care system. Replacing it with private insurance means getting rid of it. Even calling it “privatization” masks what is really afoot.

Every Democrat should be focused and talking about it volubly both as a matter of policy and politics. There isn’t much time.

Yeah, I don’t remember that being a campaign issue, either. Maybe it was discussed in one of those emails that got deleted. But there it is, whether anyone realized it or not. If you need a bit of brush-up on what that means, see here and here.

Now then. The fact that this went basically undiscussed for the last year is unfortunate, but it’s where we are. There’s no time like the present to bring it out from under a rock and shine a little light on it. TPM is on that.

DC journalists tend to think this kind of story evolves in DC. And there’s plenty to follow in Washington. But the real action happens in the states and congressional districts where members of Congress have to sell getting rid of Medicare to their constituents. And that is going to come out in local media, constituent letters, public appearances and so forth. So let us know what you are seeing where you live. In the local paper, on TV, something you hear directly from a representative or senator. Find out where your representative or senator stands on this issue. We want to know.

I’d like to know, too. I live in CD18, and I feel as close to certain as it is possible to be that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee will not vote to “reform” Medicare. But there are 35 other members of Congress in Texas, most of them Republican. It sure would be nice to know what they think about this, and that includes the Democrats, who may claim to be as in the dark as some Republicans are now claiming to be. So why not give your member of Congress a call and ask them if they support the Ryan plan to privatize Medicare. You might point out to the Republican members that they have voted for it in the past. You might also point out that Trump himself has flipflopped on the issue and now supports it himself. Whatever answer you get, please let me know – [email protected] is the email address. Expect denial, ignorance, and sheer bullshit, but any answer you get is more information than we had before.