Mayor Ivy Taylor speaks with City staff while rideshare protesters look on during a meeting in October. Credit: James McCandless / San Antonio Report

City Council met Wednesday afternoon for updates on rideshare operating agreement negotiations as well as a briefing on proposed changes to Chapter 33 of the municipal code governing transportation network companies (TNC). The changes were divided into three categories: changes supported by City staff, changes not supported, and changes requiring further discussion.

The current status of the operating agreement for rideshare companies includes, but is not limited to, the following terms:

  • A contract term of one year with an optional extension of three years
    • A change from the flat fee structure to a progressive structure that benefits smaller companies
  • Optional background checks for rideshare drivers
  • A requirement for annual inspections

City staff working with TNCs presented arguments for and against specific changes. Assistant Police Director Steven Baum, Assistant City Manager Erik Walsh, and Airport Operations Director Ryan Rocha discussed the negotiations and fielded questions from City Council.

The changes that City staff is recommending to City Council are:

  • Reducing the taxi operating fee from $440 to $250
  • Eliminating the manifest/trip reporting requirements
  • Additional licensing requirements

Baum said that the manifests currently in place for taxi companies provide no substantial information about any given ride and should be scrapped.

Assistant Police Director Steve Baum presents proposed changes to Chapter 33 to the City Council.
Assistant Police Director Steve Baum presents proposed changes to Chapter 33 to the City Council. Credit: James McCandless / San Antonio Report

“Only the largest taxi company has a sophisticated computer-aided dispatch system that electronically records trips,” Baum explained. “The smaller companies and most of the independents maintain those logs on paper. As you can imagine most of those logs are inaccurate or they provide us with very little useful information.”

Baum said that the removal of this provision from Chapter 33 would eliminate a lot of paperwork that taxi companies have to fill out.

The changes that City staff does not recommend are:

  • Converting the permit system to a Medallion scheme, which effectively sells permits to private owners
  • Eliminating the disclosure of lease fees
  • Allowing taxi companies to be insured through the State’s minimum-rated insurance agency
  • Switching from driver permits to universal permits

Baum said that carrying a sound insurance policy is the only way to ensure that claims are paid out properly.

“We currently require the insurance that they carry to be B+ rated or better (by the State),” he said. “Ratings for insurance companies are very similar to our bond rating. They are an independent assessment of a company’s financial stability and their ability to satisfy claims in the event that multiple claims are filed.”

Baum argued that removing the B+ rating restriction would allow for substandard coverage and the possibility that a company would not be able to pay a claim in full.

Additional discussion is recommended for the following items:

  • The installation of “smart taxi meters”
  • Flexible pricing
  • Removable top lights and company information on vehicles
  • Retaining unassigned permits

Currently, taxis in San Antonio have hard-mounted meters that are bolted to the car, Baum said, and tied to the electrical and mechanical components of the car.

“These meters measure distance and time. Rates are set and meters are mounted by inspectors,” Baum said. “The use of a ‘smart taxi meter’ is essentially the use of a tablet or a phone that calculates time and distance using GPS coordinates. It calculates that based on a mathematical formula that the holder puts into the system. But we have no way, as regulators, to lock that formula.”

He added that the only city that does this in North America is Calgary. The measure was very recently implemented and needs more time to produce data.

City Council members Alan Warrick (D2), Rebecca Viagran (D3), Shirley Gonzales (D5), Ray Lopez (D6), and Mike Gallagher (D10) all expressed concerns about optional versus mandatory fingerprinting.

While most were happy to explore measures to voluntarily raise the fingerprinting rate for rideshare drivers, Viagran wondered why there was no plan to make fingerprinting mandatory.

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) questions Steve Baum on fingerprinting.
Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) questions Steve Baum on fingerprinting. Credit: James McCandless / San Antonio Report

“I’m glad that we’re having a conversation about fingerprints. Safety should be paramount in this conversation,” Viagran said. “I think that’s something we always have to have when we talk about any vehicle for hire.”

She and Warrick also raised questions about why the City’s tech industry was not developing any rideshare companies.

Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) asked why the City insists on blocking flexible pricing measures for taxis while limiting the number of taxis on the streets.

These points and more were brought up by Council members, but nothing was voted on. City staff will continue negotiating with rideshare and taxi companies and will present measures to be voted on in November.

After the meeting, City Attorney Andy Segovia told the Rivard Report that the Lyft lawsuit against the City has yet to have a hearing scheduled.

Correction: A previous version of this article listed Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) as one of the City Council members in favor of fingerprinting, when he is for removing the fingerprinting regulation from the industry. 

Former intern James McCandless is a recent St. Mary's University graduate. He has worked with the San Antonio Current and Texas Public Radio.