SA Council approves new rules to allow Lyft to return

Close vote, but it counts.


The ride-hailing firm Lyft will soon re-start operations in San Antonio in the wake of a controversial City Council decision Thursday that will allow the company to offer rides here during a nine-month pilot program.

The council spent more than three hours listening to public comment and debating among themselves before voting 6-5 in favor of the program.

“A positive vote today is a win for our community because it will expand transportation options in a city where public transportation is limited,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said. “With today’s vote approving this agreement, we are saying loudly that San Antonio is open for business.”

No other city in the country has worked as closely with a so-called “transportation-network company,” or TNC, as San Antonio, Taylor said. The pilot program, she said, “provides consumer choice and works with the technological platform of ride-share companies” and supports the city’s commitments to both innovation and public safety.

Earlier this summer, Taylor directed City Manager Sheryl Sculley to develop a pilot program, and appointed Councilman Roberto Treviño to oversee negotiations for the council.

The deal approved Thursday allows Lyft drivers to voluntarily undergo the city’s fingerprint background check and then post a unique city identification number to their driver profiles on the Lyft smartphone application, which customers use to hail rides. Customers will be able to choose whether they want a driver who has gone through the city’s fingerprint background check in addition to the Lyft background check all drivers go through.


Councilman Ron Nirenberg pointed out his public safety concerns from a different perspective — epidemic levels of drunken driving in the San Antonio area.

“Insufficient transportation options, which we experience every day, all over this city… increase congestion, cost jobs and it make San Antonio roads more dangerous — even fatal,” Nirenberg said. “And I’m tired of hearing about the fact that people are getting into their automobile when they shouldn’t be because there are no options otherwise.”

Nirenberg said he hopes to have a pilot program for Uber underway soon. It’s unclear how that might happen.

The company submitted earlier this week a slightly different propsal to the city. Rather than identify drivers in its app who have undergone the city’s fingerprint background check, which the city is willing to pay for, Uber wants to notify its users that its drivers don’t go through the city’s background check and solely uses its third-party system.

That likely wouldn’t pass muster with the council, however. Councilman Joe Krier, who was the sixth vote that enabled approval of the Lyft deal, expressed dismay at how Uber has handled itself in San Antonio and in Texas.

Krier said Uber’s approach has been offensive and that he doesn’t respond well to it. The councilman thanked Lyft for its willingness to work with the city to find a resolution.

If Uber ultimately decides to agree to the same methods that Lyft did, it could enter into its own nine-month pilot program without going before council. The council’s approval Thursday makes it possible for other TNCs, such as Uber, to operate here under their own pilot programs as long as their structures are materially similar to the Lyft operating agreement — without going back to the council for an individual vote.

See here and here for the background. This makes San Antonio the mirror image of Houston, in that they now have Lyft but not Uber, and we have Uber but not Lyft. As I suggested before, perhaps this is a situation that might warrant some attention from the Mayoral candidates. Do we want to revisit our rules and try to find a way to get Lyft to operate here, or are we OK with how things are now? The story also notes that Houston and San Antonio are the only cities that require fingerprint background checks for rideshare drivers. I strongly suspect that means we will see another attempt to pass a law providing for state-mandated rules for Uber and Lyft when the Lege reconvenes in 2017. Such a bill made it pretty far this session, and could make more progress next time. As I’ve said before, it would be nice to know what our Mayoral wannabes think about that. The Rivard Report and the Current have more.

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