San Antonio, like many major cities, has had an on-again, off-again relationship with rideshare ever since it entered the local vehicle for hire market in 2014.
More than 500 people gathered throughout Tuesday night at a Tech Bloc rally at Burleson Yard where City officials called on them to pick up their phones, send an email, or drop a letter in the mail to City Council members in support of ride-hailing technology companies like Uber and Lyft. Throughout the evening, more than 400 signed letters of support were collected by organizers.
“Please, let’s not rest on our laurels,” said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who credited rideshare with the reduction of drunk driving arrests in San Antonio over the past year. “Let’s sign up, let’s contact our Council member(s).”
City Council will discuss a proposal tomorrow at 2 p.m. that would extend the existing pilot operating agreements with such companies for up to four years. Citizens can speak directly to City Council during the 6 p.m. session later that day. The new rules are scheduled for City Council vote on Thursday, Dec. 8, after another citizens to be heard session at 9 a.m.
The new regulation would keep a 10-point fingerprint background check optional but add a “financial incentive” for rideshare drivers who comply, City Manager Sheryl Sculley announced Tuesday night. She joined Treviño and Mayor Ivy Taylor, who each donned a blue and red “Keep Rideshare SA” shirt.
“… My vision for San Antonio is that we’re a globally competitive city where every person is connected to opportunities for prosperity,” Taylor said. “I cannot think of anything that we’re doing that better exemplifies that than continuing rideshare in San Antonio.”
Competitive cities have access to transportation options, she said, noting that San Antonians have limited public transportation options.
“We think we’ve struck a great balance with this consumer choice model,” Taylor said.
In an attempt to build consensus and convince Council members like Joe Krier (D9), who recently balked at the number of drivers who volunteered to be fingerprinted, City staff and policy makers worked on a compromise. The details will be fully revealed to the public and Council on Wednesday.
“There were still some concerns (among some Council members) about how many drivers have actually taken the 10-print,” Sculley told the Rivard Report after the rally. “So we came up with a way to incentivize it.”
As of Tuesday, Sculley said, 373 drivers had registered. It is unknown how many rideshare drivers – part-time or full-time – are active.
“Overwhelmingly, the community wants to continue with our rideshare companies,” she told the crowd, citing community meetings and online surveys conducted by the City over the past year.
While City staff will officially recommend that Council approve the proposed rules, the division on the dais remains too close to call.
Council members Mike Gallagher (D10), Ray Lopez (D6), Cris Medina (D7), Shirley Gonzales (D5), and Rebecca Viagran (D3) voted against the pilot operating agreements, citing concerns about the third-party background checks rideshare companies use for drivers, which rely on local and state databases.
Traditional vehicle for hire companies have argued that those background checks are insufficient and that only fingerprinting can ensure passenger safety. Rideshare companies will likely cease operations in the city, like they did in March 2015, if fingerprinting becomes mandatory – or until the Texas Legislature takes on the issue.
The real public safety issue on the table is drunk driving, said Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) South Texas Executive Director Jason Derscheid.
More than 10,000 people died last year in the U.S. as a result of drunk driving, he added.
“10,265 to be exact. I give you that exact number because each and every one of them was a son, a daughter, a mother, or a father,” he said, adding that year after year, Texas is among the top states in the nation for drunk driving fatalities. Bexar County leads all the urban counties in the state for fatalities per capita. “The most tragic part about this is drunk driving is 100% preventable.”
Ride-hailing mobile applications make it an easy, affordable choice not to drive drunk, Derscheid said.
Members of Tech Bloc, the local technology industry advocacy group, passed out flyers with Council member contact information and collected signed petitions throughout the event.
“Rideshare is one of the few things that has actually moved the needle in decreasing the amount of drunk driving happening in our county, saving lives,” said Tech Bloc CEO David Heard.
City Council will also consider a number of changes to how all vehicles-for-hire operate in San Antonio on Dec. 8 in an attempt to “level the playing field” for old and new transportation and technology companies.