Uber, Lyft, and other transportation network companies compete successfully with taxis by using computer apps to match passengers with drivers who use their own non-commercial vehicles. As a consumer, all you need in order to take advantage of their services is a smart phone. Unfortunately, the Texas market is beset by a patchwork of inconsistent local regulations. Although attempts to harmonize these regulations under state law framework have failed so far, 2017 might turn out to be a breakthrough year in this regard.
Uber and Lift: Their Side of the Story
From the point of view of Uber and Lyft (as well as other transportation network companies), their industry should be encouraged, because it increases efficiency and because it makes it easier for drunks to find rides home (Texas suffers the nation’s highest number of drunken driving deaths). Both companies screen their drivers with thorough criminal background checks that they claim are more effective than fingerprinting. The transportation network industry’s ideal legislation would not include a driver fingerprinting requirement (because drivers don’t like it) and would be uniform throughout the state.
2015: House Bill 2440
In 2015, House Bill 2440 was one attempt to harmonize local legislation on a statewide basis. The bill, had it become law, would have allowed transportation network companies to operate under state-issued permits, and would have limited local legislation, such as legislation in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin, that could interfere with statewide legislative consistency. The bill died in the Texas House of Representatives under opposition from the taxi industry and large municipal governments.
The Austin Uber-Exit: The Defeat of Proposition 1
In 2015 the city of Austin approved restrictions on transportation network companies that required taxi-like regulation and the fingerprinting of drivers. Proposition 1 was a 2016 ballot initiative, supported by the transportation network company lobby, that would have repealed these restrictions. After Proposition 1 was soundly defeated at the ballot box, both Uber and Lyft vowed to stop doing business in Austin. Few people considered this threat a bluff, since both companies had already left San Antonio over legislation requiring the fingerprinting of this drivers, returning only after this requirement was eliminated.
The Road Ahead: 2017 Legislative Prospects
Texas Senator Charles Schwertner has stated that he intends to introduce new ride-sharing legislation in the 2017 legislative session. If the measure fails, it will likely fail in the House of Representatives as it did last time, because local governments tend to be hostile to statewide legislation and local influence is stronger in the House than in the Senate. Perhaps the inconvenience of relying on taxis will convince the skeptics among the Texas public to change their minds and start pressuring the legislature to act this time.
Obtaining Legal Assistance
Houston criminal defense lawyer Mario Madrid has been practicing law for two decades as a lawyer, prosecutor and judge. Unlike about 90 percent of Texas criminal lawyers, he is a board-certified specialist in Criminal Law and a member of the National College of DUI Defense Attorneys. If you have been accused of a crime in the Houston area, call Madrid Law, PLLC at 713-877-9400 for a free initial consultation.