SAPD Chief McManus in his office at the San Antonio Public Safety Headquarters. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
SAPD Chief McManus in his office at the San Antonio Public Safety Headquarters. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The City Council’s Public Safety Subcommittee will meet Wednesday, 11 a.m. to receive a briefing from San Antonio Police Chief William McManus on car share programs, who said he asked for the meeting before following his counterparts in other Texas cities, including Austin, by sending a “cease and desist” letter to the San Francisco-based car share startup Lyft.

Mayor Julián Castro
Mayor Julián Castro

Mayor Julián Castro, however, sent out a supportive Tweet Friday morning that said car share programs would be welcome to operate in San Antonio, but a later Facebook posting by the Mayor made it clear they will have to meet certain city standards that will come under discussion next week.

“We can make Lyft, Uber and similar services work in San Antonio,” Castro wrote on Facebook. “They need to meet strong standards for safety and quality (insurance, driver background checks, etc.), but they should be part of the equation. Figuring that out will take some time, but we’ll get it done. San Antonio is moving forward, not standing still.”

Lyft executives say the car share startup already meets those standards in every city where it operates. Uber, another car share program that operates in 34 countries, posted on its own blog Thursday news that it, too, was opening for business in San Antonio.

The local taxi industry is expected to oppose new competitors coming into the market. Licensed taxi services have complained to city officials about the unregulated car share programs establishing operations in San Antonio, a scenario playing out in U.S. cities everywhere.

The Public Safety Subcommittee is chaired by District 7 Councilman Chris Medina. Other members include District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, District 9 Councilman Joe Krier, and District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher. 

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus

I spoke with Chief McManus late Friday after writing an open letter to him posted on the Rivard Report late Thursday night: “Dear Chief McManus, Let’s Welcome Lyft to San Antonio.” McManus wanted readers to know he had called for the subcommittee meeting before he sent the letter, and had consulted with counterparts in other Texas cities. McManus said he does not oppose car share services or other transportation innovations, but wants everyone to play by the same rules and regulations.

McManus said he would recommend to members on the public safety subcommittee that all stakeholders be invited to appear at an open hearing to consider the matter.  The topic has been the subject of intense social media postings since last night, particularly among young professionals, who consider car share a more preferable option to local taxis, both for their use of consumer-friendly technology to connect riders and drivers, and because they eliminate the traditional “call a cab and wait” service. Many have cited the car share services as a means of reducing drunk driving in the city.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.