Reporters surround the Lyft vehicle as Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) opens the door for Mayor Ivy Taylor. Photo by Scott Ball.
Reporters surround the Lyft vehicle as Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) opens the door for Mayor Ivy Taylor. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Mayor Ivy Taylor used the rideshare service Lyft to travel from her Dignowity Hill residence to City Hall Thursday morning, marking the company’s return to San Antonio under a nine-month pilot agreement with the City.

“I promised Lyft that when they came back I’d be their first rider, so I kept my promise,” Taylor said after stepping out of a gleaming blue Ford sedan driven by a young man the mayor identified as a UTSA student named Tyler.

Rideshare returned to San Antonio in October when Uber began operations. The agreement, narrowly approved by City Council in August, requires Lyft to provide passengers using its app with the ability to check if drivers have registered for an optional 10-fingerprint background check with the San Antonio Police Department. The measure is intended to be a second level of security added to the standard third-party checks of drivers required by Lyft and Uber.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) speaks at the podium. Photo by Scott Ball.
Mayor Ivy Taylor (left) looks on as Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) addresses the crowd of reporters. Photo by Scott Ball.

As of Monday, 62 rideshare drivers have applied for the SAPD’s free, optional background check out of a larger pool of hundreds of drivers, with 33 approved so far. The other approvals are pending review, according to Jeff Coyle, director of the City’s Government and Public Affairs Department.

Coyle said the agreement promotes “consumer choice” by letting riders choose how many background checks their drivers should have to go through before picking them up.

The incentive for drivers, if any, is that they run the “risk of getting a ride canceled” by a customer if they don’t take the City check, he said.

Most rideshare consumers, if interviews are an accurate barometer, are indifferent to the secondary security registration and are comfortable using the rideshare services here and in other cities knowing the drivers have undergone background checks by Uber and Lyft.

Representatives from Lyft and Uber worked on the pilot agreement with City staff, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), and members of the tech industry advocacy group Tech Bloc after regulations that required a 10-fingerprint background check was passed in April, causing rideshare companies to close up shop on April 1.

Under the agreement, the two companies are required to participate in ongoing community discussions in how to move beyond the nine-month pilot period. Every three months, Treviño said, the City will host a public town hall in partnership with Lyft and Uber to review data collected on the service so far and collect feedback.

“How is it working for you? Are you getting the service you thought you were getting? How can we improve this?” he said of the anticipated questions he’d like to see answered at the meetings. “The best part is that they (Lyft and Uber) are involved. This isn’t just a City event.”

The first meeting would take place in Spring 2016.

The mobile applications display a verification number next to a driver’s name one they’ve been cleared by the SAPD’s check, but the app does not explain what that number means. That’s up to the City, which has launched an awareness campaign including social media outreach, billboards, and an informational video.

Taylor said the agreement “strikes that balance between providing transportation options for our residents but also keeps them safe,” she said. “Lyft is a great example of the type of tech business that will help make San Antonio a 21st century city and we hope will attract more Millennials and workers for tomorrow’s businesses.”

*Top image: Reporters surround the Lyft vehicle as Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) opens the door for Mayor Ivy Taylor. Photo by Scott Ball.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org