Uber and Lyft versus fingerprints

They prefer to do their own background checks, which of course do not require fingerprint checks.


Houston, San Antonio and Austin currently take different approaches to a key regulatory issue: whether vehicle-for-hire app drivers must undergo fingerprint background checks.

The issue has proven pivotal to Uber and Lyft in Texas. Lyft refuses to operate in Houston, where fingerprint checks are required. Uber isn’t currently available in San Antonio, which has a voluntary fingerprinting program. And both companies are worried that Austin is about to become a lot less hospitable.

“Don’t fix what’s not broken,” Uber Chief Adviser David Plouffe urged Austin leaders at a press conference Monday. “This is working. It’s delivering jobs and it’s delivering important transportation to people that have had a hard time getting it.”

Last October, Austin passed a temporary ordinance allowing vehicle-for-hire apps to operate legally with few restrictions. A year later, Austin City Councilwoman Ann Kitchen is leading an effort to tweak the city’s rules, including requiring fingerprinting drivers so the city can conduct more comprehensive background checks than the companies do.



Uber and Lyft collectively operate in more than a dozen Texas cities, most relying on the companies to handle background checks on drivers. Officials with both companies have said fingerprint requirements are too burdensome. Drivers working fewer than 20 hours a week are critical to the reliability of their services, they say, and requiring them to visit an office to be fingerprinted dissuades many from signing up.

In an email to Austin customers Tuesday, Uber called Kitchen’s proposals “toxic.” Lyft has said it “could jeopardize the future of ride-sharing in Austin.”

“What Austin did last year was really one of the most forward-looking approaches to ride-sharing,” Plouffe said. “This would be a surprising place to take a huge step backward when so much of the regulatory discussion in the U.S. has moved forward.”

Neither Uber not Lyft officials would say for certain what they will do if Austin adopts a fingerprinting requirement. Their recent experiences in Houston and San Antonio show different approaches to the issue.

Houston is one of Uber’s only markets in which its drivers have to undergo fingerprinting. Lyft pulled out of Houston nearly a year ago.

“We do not operate in any market that requires drivers to be fingerprinted,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson said.

Though Uber is still available there, the company isn’t exactly thrilled with Houston’s policy. Uber has more drivers in Austin than much larger Houston “due to the excessive regulations the city has enacted,” spokeswoman Debbee Hancock said. Over the past year, the company has pulled out of other cities that launched fingerprint requirements “in large part because of our experience in Houston.” She declined to say why the company is still operating in Houston.

I figure there are four possible outcomes here. In ascending order of likeliness:

1. Uber and Lyft pull out of Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, because they just don’t care for the regulatory requirements and they can’t get any changes made either in the cities or the Lege.

2. Uber and Lyft accept the status quo and quit trying to change things, staying in the cities they’re in but not going to cities where they’re not.

3. Uber and Lyft manage to come to an accommodation with these three and other cities, and expand where they don’t exist under rules everyone has agreed on.

4. Uber and Lyft manage to convince the Lege to pass a bill that accommodates their preferences and overrides local rideshare ordinances.

You can see why I ordered them that way. Unless #3 happens, I expect a much bigger effort to get a bill similar to the one Rep. Chris Paddie introduced in this last session passed. Anyone see this happening differently?

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