Mayor Ivy Taylor calls for and end to personal attacks during the police union contract negotiations in December 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Mayor Ivy Taylor calls for and end to personal attacks during the police union contract negotiations in December 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Rideshare companies and supporters will receive a five-day grace period beginning March 1, the date the ordinance was supposed to take effect, while Mayor Ivy Taylor, members of City Council, and staff finalize a revised ordinance that will ease the regulatory burden on transportation network companies.

“We’ve been having some meetings and talking about some of the requirements,” Mayor Taylor said. “We want to stay flexible, but still stay true to our original focus of public safety.”

The ordinance approved in December is designed to regulate so-called TNCs, rideshare companies that connect drivers of personal vehicles to customers via a mobile application. San Antonio’s ordinance was one of the most restrictive in the nation and prompted Uber officials to announce a planned pullout from the city.  The ordinance was heavily supported by the local taxi and limousine industry, and protested by many urbanites who have to rely on the highly popular services.

Uber and Lyft called the ordinance a “barrier to the market.”

Two council members, Ron Nirenberg (D8) and Rey Saldaña (D4), voted against the ordinance in December.

Mayor Taylor released a statement Tuesday afternoon that outlines what she and the City’s working group sees as areas that the ordinance can be adjusted. At the top of that list is the “gap period” insurance requirement. The gap occurs when the mobile application is turned on by the driver, signaling availability to nearby customers seeking a ride, and when the driver actually accepts a fare-paying passenger. Under the ordinance, TNCs are required to maintain excess coverage of $200,000 even though they are passenger-free.

Click here to download Mayor Taylor’s statement.

“At this time, it is not feasible to implement the insurance standards specified in the existing ordinance because products that provide drivers with the required ‘gap’ coverage are not yet available in Texas,” Taylor stated. “I will ask my City Council colleagues to revisit the insurance requirements and delay the applicability of the gap coverage requirement until a conforming insurance product is available or the Texas Legislature takes action to set a statewide standard, whichever comes first.”

Also under consideration:

  • Allowing the 10-point fingerprint check of rideshare drivers to serve as an “in-person application” instead of requiring them to drop off all materials themselves at City Hall.
  • Random drug testing instead of pre-employment screening.
  • Adjusting the English-language proficiency requirement language to clarify that TNCs may determine what level is appropriate.
  • Revisiting the fee and payment structures.
  • Clarifying what kind of usage data the City will require of TNCs.

“It’s very fluid, up to now, these are some of the things that we’ve talked about recommending the council at least consider (revising),” Taylor said.

The $160 annual permit fee, for instance, could be lowered if a revision means the City can dedicate fewer staff resources to processing TNC drivers. In Austin and Houston, the fee is substantially less, “because in those cities they have an agreement where a percentage of gross revenue is supposed to be paid to the city,” Taylor said. “From a public policy perspective … do we want to be chasing down that (revenue) number from the companies?”

This list of considerations would check off several regulations that rideshare companies Lyft and Uber have pointed to as onerous, but not all.

(Read more: Uber, Lyft Concerned With More Than Insurance)

Yellow Cab San Antonio President John Bouloubasis released a statement expressing disappointment that City Council would consider revising the existing ordinance.

“Every day that TNCs are allowed to operate without basic, necessary insurance coverage, San Antonio passengers, drivers and visitors are at risk,” stated Bouloubasis. “It’s shocking to see our city government blink in the face of Uber’s high pressure lobbying tactics, and delay implementation of a fair, public-safety focused ordinance that creates a level playing field for all vehicles for hire.”

John Bouloubasis, president of Yellow Cab San Antonio, speaks with media after the City Countil Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
John Bouloubasis, president of Yellow Cab San Antonio, speaks with media after the City Countil Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Mayor Taylor will meet with each council member individually throughout this week and next to discuss the suggested recommendations. The earliest a revised ordinance could be brought to City Council for a vote would be March 5.

“Until then, the ordinance will not be enforced,” she said.

“I’ve had meetings with taxi representatives in the past few weeks … they’re very wary of this whole new option, but frankly it’s not about protecting their industry, it’s about how can we as a Council provide the most applicable regulatory framework to a new industry in town,” she said, adding that another look at the traditional vehicle for hire ordinances may be in the City’s future. “We want to make sure we are fair in the way that we treat all of the industries.”

It’s highly unusual for City Council to re-examine an ordinance even before it takes effect, but in this instance, Mayor Taylor and others on the council clearly have shown a sensitivity to public sentiment, and want to avoid any action that will characterize San Antonio as a city that is not open to new technologies and services in the marketplace. The debate over rideshare was seen by many as a litmus test for local government and whether it would embrace change essential to building a city more attractive to young professionals.

“We are pleased to hear the Mayor recognizes the current ridesharing ordinance is unworkable. In addition to the insurance provisions, we remain concerned with the duplicative driver requirements that do little more than add bureaucratic red tape for part time drivers trying to use their own resources to earn extra money on the Uber platform,” said Uber representative Debbee Hancock in an email. “We hope the rest of the council will take a comprehensive review of this ordinance and repeal these regulations.”

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Not Okay With Just Okay: Rideshare and Innovation in San Antonio

City Crafting Alternative Rideshare Ordinance

Uber to Leave San Antonio, Lyft on the Fence

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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