Uber and Lyft will relaunch services in Austin on Monday, now that Texas lawmakers have passed a bill overriding local regulations on ride-hailing companies.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign House Bill 100 into law the same day. That measure establishes a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies and undoes local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models.
"Austin is an incubator for technology and entrepreneurship, and we are excited to be back in the mix," Uber spokesman Travis Considine said. "... We know that we have a lot of work to do in the city, but we couldn’t be more excited for the road ahead."
"We're excited to return to Austin on Monday. As we've said for months, we will relaunch in the city as soon as Gov. Abbott signs HB 100 into law," Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison said.
Why did Uber and Lyft take a leave of absence?
Uber and Lyft left Austin after the Austin City Council passed an ordinance in December 2015 requiring ride-hailing companies to perform fingerprint background checks on drivers, a stipulation that already applies to Austin taxi companies.
Uber and Lyft fiercely opposed the rules, gathering petition signatures to force a public vote and spending nearly $9 million on an unsuccessful campaign asking voters to overturn the regulations. Following the vote, both companies halted services in Austin, and the resulting ride-hailing vacuum attracted several start-up ride-hailing apps that agreed to comply with the city's rules.
If HB 100 gets the governor's stamp of approval as expected, it would standardize ride-hailing regulations statewide, requiring companies to have a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, pay an annual fee to operate, and perform local, state and national criminal background checks on drivers annually. It doesn't require companies to fingerprint their drivers.
At a public bill signing for a different bill Thursday, Abbott declined to comment on when he would sign HB 100 into law. "Now, you know I’ll tell you about that when I get ready to sign it," Abbott said.
Following the passage of the bill in both chambers, Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued a statement saying he was "disappointed" the Legislature voted to nullify regulations the city had implemented.
"Our city should be proud of how we filled the gap created when Uber and Lyft left, and we now must hope that they return ready to compete in a way that reflects Austin’s values," Adler wrote.
It's unclear what Uber and Lyft's plans will be in other Texas cities once the bill is law. Uber previously reached an agreement with Houston to stay in the city, which also required fingerprint background checks, through Super Bowl LI, which was held on Feb. 5, 2017.
By Alex Samuels, TexasTribune.org