City Council members and City staff need more time and more data before deciding the future of rideshare companies in San Antonio, officials said Wednesday, and will likely vote on a path forward in this fall.
The City’s nine-month pilot operating agreements with Lyft and Uber are set to expire this summer, but they will likely be extended to match up Get Me’s expiration date in October when City Council will consider keeping, modifying, or discarding the experimental framework that has allowed such ride-hailing companies to operate in San Antonio. A fourth company, Bid My Ride, has applied for an agreement but has not started local operations.
To help inform Council’s decision, two large meetings and an online survey were organized over the last two months to gather public feedback.
During the meetings, participants overwhelmingly agreed that choice in the local transportation market is essential.
But when it comes to background checks, “everyone has different standards,” San Antonio Police Department Assistant Director Steven Baum said as he briefed City Council on the responses gathered at the meetings. “Everyone has different comfort zones.”
The current operating agreements give contract drivers a choice to complete a fingerprint background checks in addition to the third-party multi-district background check required by Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). Riders, if they are aware of how to identify the difference, can choose whether they want to ride with drivers who have not taken the fingerprint check.
“It’s very obvious to us that the rideshare industry is an integral part of our vehicle-for-hire industry,” Baum said. “(TNCs) have woven themselves into the fabric (of the city) and the public expects it.”
According to an online survey, which was available from May 10 to June 10, 41% of citizens reported that driver background checks are important to them, but they have no preference between third party or fingerprint background checks. Nearly 30% of participants reported that they’d prefer a third party check, while 14% preferred fingerprint checks, and 18% said they don’t consider any type of background checks when using rideshare operators.
When asked to rank different factors of selecting transportation options, 86% of people that took the online survey indicated that affordability was their top concern, followed by 82% who view “ease of use” and 73% who view safety as their No. 1 consideration.
The most common TNC pick-up and drop-off zipcode was 78249, the area near the University of Texas at San Antonio-Main Campus, according to the survey.
Some roundtable participants called for deregulating the taxi industry, adopting the current pilot agreements between the City and rideshare companies into law, or doing away with rideshare altogether.
City Council called for staff to gather more valuable data on the rideshare industry’s overall impact on the city such as metrics on the number of TNC rides dropped by customers due to the driver’s lack of a fingerprint background check, rideshare’s impact on San Antonio’s drunk driving rates, and information on why TNC drivers choose not to undergo fingerprint background checks.
The public meetings also touched on whether TNCs should abide by the same regulations as the traditional vehicle-for-hire industry, which includes taxis, limos, and pedicabs. Drivers of these vehicles are required to take fingerprint background checks.
Since rideshare returned to the city in December, the use of TNCs at the airport has steadily increased. TNCs have seen a more than 300% increase in ridership from Oct. 2015-May 2016, said the City’s Interim Aviation Director Tom Jones. But the short time span of only nine months makes it difficult to come to any “definitive conclusions,” he said.
“Everything trends upwards, and I don’t know when that curve bends or breaks,” Jones said. “(But) it’s clear that ridership has increased in last six months … I believe it’s an indication of the public’s need and usage of TNCs.”
If Council grants the pilot agreement extension for Lyft and Uber, the two more widely used platforms, the airport could have “more time to get grounding … and forecast what they’ve seen moving forward,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3).
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said assessing the contracts is key to finding a unique solution based on the needs of San Antonio’s population.
“I think that this can serve as a model for us in the future for other issues that may arise where we don’t necessarily have a solution or roadmap on how we can get to a solution,” he said.
Because of the growing popularity of rideshare in the city, Mayor Ivy Taylor said, the council should be thorough, but also speedy, in its decision making.
“I agree with the services being integral and something that cities expect to have available, so I hope we’ll be able to come up with a way to continue in expeditious fashion,” she said.
City Council will vote on the contract extensions during its meeting at starts at 9 a.m. on Thursday, June 30.
Top image: San Antonio Police Department Assistant Director Steven Baum tells City Council that they should extend the rideshare agreement expiration dates to gather more data. Photo by Camille Garcia.