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Image credit: Tyrone Siu / Reuters

Texas legislature overrules Austin, allows Uber and Lyft to return

They're expected to open Monday right after the Governor signs the bill into law.
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Tyrone Siu / Reuters

When Austin citizens voted in May 2016 to require fingerprint-based background checks from ride-sharing drivers and ban passenger pickup in traffic lanes, Uber and Lyft promptly pulled out of the city. But both are scheduled to restart operations in the city next Monday thanks to legislation passed by the Texas Legislature this month. The bill overrides local ordinances like Austin's that regulate ride-hailing services and only needs Governor Greg Abbott's signature to become law.

While Lyft and Uber are celebrating, the city isn't. The bill, HB 100, would override the state's 20-plus local ordinances and require ride-sharing companies to conduct criminal background and sex offender checks for drivers -- but allow them to use ones they prefer. Uber's internal checks have failed to discover criminal records before, and when Massachusetts enacted tougher background research rules last month, over 8,000 current drivers were rejected for violent/sexual crimes or drunk or reckless driving. Doubtless these enhanced checks aim to weed out predatory chauffeurs -- like Uber drivers who have sexually assault passengers, which the company has tried wiggling out of legal responsibility for.

Once Lyft and Uber activate their drivers, both ride-sharing titans will have to compete with local operators that sprung up in the interim. Companies like Fare and Fasten along with the nonprofit ride-hailing service RideAustin complied with Austin's rules, which were passed by the city to raise the standards of ride-sharing drivers to match taxi drivers (who are required to submit fingerprints and pass background checks). Whether the homegrown services retain their lead once the industry-dominating Lyft and Uber return depends on the passengers -- and how they'll vote with their wallet.

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