Rideshare companies Lyft and Uber announced on May 9 that they were no longer offering their services in Austin, Texas, after voters there rejected a proposed ordinance that would have eliminated fingerprint-based background checks for drivers. In a Saturday election, 56 percent of Austin voters, despite what some have called confusing ballot language, rejected the proposed ordinance, known as “Proposition 1,” which was supported by the companies.
The vote, leaves intact an ordinance enacted by Austin City Council in 2015 that requires transportation network companies to conduct background checks on their drivers, including a fingerprinting requirement. The ordinance, which took effect February 1, 2016, also requires drivers to display the trade dress of the rideshare company on their vehicle and contains restrictions on lane usage.
In response, the companies launched a campaign in support of a new ordinance that would remove the fingerprint requirement but also enact digital safety features, through which app users could see a picture of the driver and description of the vehicle and would be able to know their estimated fare before entering a car. It would have required background checks for drivers, screening for DUI convictions, speeding tickets and other traffic infractions, and other criminal history.
One of the primary arguments that the companies made was that fingerprints slow down the process of on-boarding drivers, which undermines both companies’ business models. The companies also argued that the fingerprint databases are often outdated and biased against minorities who might have been fingerprinted but never charged with a crime.
This isn’t the first time a fingerprinting law has caused the companies to pull out of a major city in Texas. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Uber and Lyft both left San Antonio in 2015 after a fingerprint requirement ordinance was passed and returned to the city after fingerprinting was made voluntary.