Uber supporters look on as traditional taxi company drivers hold signs in protest of changes to the Vehicle for Hire Ordinance. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Yet another meeting has been scheduled to discuss controversial new rules that would allow rideshare companies to operate in San Antonio. The City Council’s Public Safety Committee voted Wednesday to take up the issue with the full City Council during B Session on Dec. 3

Council members requested that the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) come to that meeting prepared to clarify the insurance policy requirements the rideshare, or transportation network company (TNC), ordinance would include. TNCs connect customers to drivers, who drive their personal vehicles, via a mobile application to pick up fares.

The insurance “grey area” appears when rideshare drivers have switched on the application that makes them ready to acquire rides but are still waiting to accept a fare through the app. If an accident were to happen during those idling moments, or even hours, which insurance policy would be responsible their personal insurance or the commercial insurance provided by the TNC? City Council will find out next month.

If approved, City staff recommendations would amend the Vehicle for Hire Ordinance to include exceptions and special requirements for TNCs. A task force composed of industry and community stakeholders also issued recommendations that were, for the most part, less stringent than what staff proposed.

Each council member on the Committee – chaired by District 3 Councilmember Rebecca Viagran and including District 5 Councilmember Shirley Gonzales, District 6 Councilmember Ray Lopez, District 7 Councilmember Cris Medina, and District 10 Councilmember Mike Gallagher – expressed disappointment in Lyft and Uber for disobeying the SAPD’s cease and desist letters. Both services continue to operate in San Antonio. The strongest words came from Lopez. Today’s meeting was his first back on the Committee after a hiatus.

District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez
District 6 Councilmember Ray Lopez

“I’m incredibly disgusted with the approach that was taken by the (rideshare) industry to come into San Antonio,” he said. “They came in here with complete disregard for the rules and regulations that we had in place.”

Lyft and Uber have entered markets across the nation with the same strategy: begin operating, gain an employee and customer base, work with city and state governments to create new rules for rideshare.

Lyft Public Policy Manager April Mims, who is also on the task force, said that Lyft will continue to operate in San Antonio. It’s expected that Uber will as well.

“Our plan is to continue to operate and continue to work with elected officials,” Mims said. “As we understand it right now, our policy team has thoroughly looked at the regulations in Chapter 33, and we believe that there are no regulations in place right now that currently (address) this unique business model.”

Chapter 33 is the section of city code that regulates vehicles for hire.

Though disgusted, Lopez recognized the need to deal with the TNCs to see if some sort of arrangement could – or should – be made. Council members agreed with Lopez that due diligence needs to be carried out in the paramount interest of public safety, despite the impulse to “get this over with.”

“I refuse to be hurried on this,” Lopez said, who proposed that the rules be moved to the Transportation Advisory Board instead of B Session to let the “experts give us advice.”

Lopez cast the only “nay” against the motion to move to B Session consideration. The Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) took rideshare under consideration last year and was unanimously opposed by the board in June.

District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher
District 10 Councilmember Mike Gallagher

Gallagher said a move to the TAB would just further delay a decision.

“This process has already drug out,” he said. B Session will allow for the same opportunities to get information from City staff and experts. “We’ve got to quit kicking the can down the road.”

“I don’t believe that it’s being rushed. I think if we take our time to get a policy that is unique to San Antonio but serves everybody as well, it’s worth the extra time,” Gonzales said, emphasizing the need for all sides to compromise. “It’s disappointing that the Uber and Lyft companies have not stopped operating … it makes it very difficult for us to be supportive of industries that won’t cooperate.”

District 5 Councilmember Shirley Gonzales
District 5 Councilmember Shirley Gonzales

Drivers and supporters of traditional taxi and limousine companies filled council chambers to speak their minds and watch the three-hour meeting, most reiterating points and claims made at previous citizens to be heard sessions.

The task force – made up of representatives from Uber, Lyft, taxi and limo companies, the insurance industry, the disability community, and a consumer – supported most of the staff recommended changes to vehicle-for-hire rules proposed earlier this year with some exceptions and additions.

The concern of TNCs is that requirements and expenses placed on their operations will prevent them from operating with low or zero profit – as was the apparent case in Houston when Lyft had to pause operations in light of new rules.

“That was a result of – what I think is very informative to you all – of the fact that a lot of the officials there were very well-intentioned but they created an ordinance which was essentially a taxi cab ordinance,” said Mims. “We weren’t able to built any capacity … we were concerned that our casual drivers – (more than) 70% of which drive less than 15 hours per week – were not going to be able to go through many of the stringent standards that were in place.”

The locally proposed rules would require verification of driver identity and criminal history based on fingerprint records (verified by SAPD), a certified third party to inspect vehicles (taking that responsibility off the City), and a random inspection and audit process. TNCs – or perhaps drivers – would also be required to purchase annual vehicle permits for $160 and a biennial driver permit for $15.

Those speaking in opposition of changes to Chapter 33, also said that the task force itself was not representative of the majority of drivers and users. Many believe that no exception or compromise should be made to accommodate rideshare companies, citing a TNC’s inability to guarantee service to people with certain disabilities and those who do not have smart phones.

*Featured/top image: Uber supporters look on as traditional taxi company drivers hold signs in protest  of changes to the Vehicle for Hire Ordinance. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Related Stories:

How Rideshare Can Keep San Antonio on the Rise

Taxis Rejoice: Rideshare Regulation Kicked Back to Task Force

Rideshare Companies Unfazed by Unanimous Advisory Board Rejection

Lyft and Uber Still Illegal, Still Operating in San Antonio

San Antonio’s Downtown Carshare Program Stalls

See all rideshare coverage here.

Iris Dimmick

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