Austin, TX v. Ride-Sharing: A Hot Mess that Hurts Citizens
Austin, Texas is the latest city in the nation to try and change the criminal background check protocol of ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. On May 7, 2016, voters shot down Proposition 1, an Austin statute that would have exempt ride-sharing companies from obtaining fingerprints from their drivers.
The previous process for vetting Lyft and Uber drivers in Austin involved background checks based on information provided by the drivers, such as social security numbers and driver’s licenses. Some legislative officials and Austinites argue that not obtaining biometric data from drivers responsible for the safety of others puts riders at risk, because one could potentially use stolen or false information in order to obtain employment.
While a fingerprint check would certainly weed out criminals who have records with the FBI, the screening process in place seems more than adequate for providing Austin, the seventh drunkest city in the nation, with affordable and reliable alternatives to expensive taxi services or worse, drunk driving, which is a chronic problem in the city.
Lyft and Uber already run their drivers through national background check databases, while Austin taxi drivers have most of their screenings conducted stateside. The possibility that a taxi driver committed a crime in another state and had it slip through the cracks seems much more terrifying than a ride-sharing driver being nationally evaluated with the minute chance that he or she may have used someone else’s information (the fact that Lyft requires drivers to meet with a mentor who takes the applicants driver’s license and insurance information in person makes the likelihood of fraudulent credentials seem slim to none).
An even more alarming prospect is that Austin city officials seems to be more concerned with making money off of fingerprinting processing fees from the ride-sharing companies than providing their constituents with safe and inexpensive transportation. Partygoers are more likely to drive while intoxicated without an efficient alternative (Lyft and Uber provide pickups within minutes, while taxis can take exponentially longer). In turn, the city makes more money from DWI and DUI fines.
As soon as Proposition 1 failed, Lyft and Uber pulled their services from Austin city limits. Whether or not this voluntary decision came from a fiscal or moral standpoint, one reality is certain: Austinites are bereft of the convenience of ride-sharing, which can’t seem to do anything but hurt the population as a whole.