When ride-hailing platforms Lyft and Uber made their controversial return to San Antonio last year it was because they had agreed to experimental operating agreements that would then be reviewed by City Council and stakeholders in nine-months.
The City will host two public “rideshare roundtables” this summer before the agreements expire in the summer and fall to collect feedback from the community. The first meeting is on Wednesday, May 18, at St. Margaret Mary’s Church Activity Center, 1314 Fair Ave., and the second on Wednesday, June 1, at TriPoint YMCA Grantham Hall, 3233 N. St. Mary’s St. Both will start at 5:30 p.m. and last until 7 p.m. – but if two years of heated public meetings regarding rideshare are any indication, two hours might be ambitious.
An online survey is also live at www.sanantonio.gov/rideshare.
The operating agreements made fingerprint background checks – the same that caused Uber and Lyft to cease operations in Austin earlier this month – optional for drivers in San Antonio. The agreement changed little about how the mobile applications function, but did give riders the ability to see which drivers had taken the fingerprint check. Drivers are required to go through third-party background checks before picking up fares, which includes local and state databases.
“This is not us trying to create a vote,” said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) on Friday. “This is us trying to figure out if we can improve on what we’ve already done.”
Many leaders in the traditional vehicle-for-hire industry that includes taxicabs, limousines, charters, horse-drawn carriages and pedicabs, have called foul on the agreement because it makes optional what is required of their drivers. Vehicles for hire are highly regulated by Chapter 33 of the Municipal code, a chapter that many Council members have said needs revision due to technology’s growing influence on transportation.
The new feature, which displays a number beneath the driver’s headshot without an in-app explanation of what the number means, was meant to test the tolerance level among riders for background checks and give the consumer options. If the rider only wants to accept rides from drivers that have taken the fingerprint test, then they can cancel rides and wait for one that has.
So far, 170 people who drive for Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), as they’re called by city ordinance, have applied to take the fingerprint check and 120 have completed the process, Treviño said. There’s no way of knowing how many total drivers there are in San Antonio. Uber and Lyft, locked in competition, have refused to share that data.
Both companies will have a presence at the roundtables, said Treviño, who helped craft the narrowly-approved (Council voted 6-5) operating agreements alongside representatives from City departments, technology industry advocacy group TechBloc, Uber and Lyft. Opposition to the agreement in August was centered around a concern for safety. Third-party checks are based on documents that can be falsified, some said, fingerprint checks are inherently more effective.
After the meetings, City Council will review the data it has collected from the pilot program.
“What we’ve done here is tailored to San Antonio,” Treviño said. “The issue is ‘how do we handle innovation?’ What we’ve showed is that we handle innovation by trying new things and by finding a way for it to work in our community.”
While this exact operating agreement will likely not work everywhere, Treviño said, what communities are calling the “San Antonio Solution” could be modified to fit the needs of other cities.
An effort is underway in the Texas Legislature to come up with a statewide rideshare law that would override city ordinances.
“I believe in local control,” Treviño said, echoing a sentiment that City Council expressed last year when a similar proposal was gaining momentum. “This operating agreement outlines what I think we should potentially codify.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that 156 drivers had taken the fingerprint background check. That has been updated to 170 have applied, 120 have completed the process.
Top image: The Select Pickup Location feature on Uber. Photo by Scott Ball.