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Uber, Lyft Hail Surges in Fees, Background Checks as Unfair

Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune
The Austin City Council is discussing a potential fee increase for ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft today.

Increased operational fees for the ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft are heading to the Austin City Council.

The measures were approved by the council’s Mobility Committee yesterday, along with new fingerprint background checks – to the objection of the companies.

Adam Blinick of Uber told the Mobility Committee that the company already does its own background checks and offers safety features through their app that aren’t an option with traditional taxi services.

“Everytime you request a ride, you see your driver’s face, their name, their license plate, their make [and] model,” Blinick said. “You know who is coming to pick you up and you can verify that before you get into a vehicle. In fact, with our app you can share your map, the route you’re taking in real time with a loved one.”

Both companies argued that their internal background checks are thorough enough, but took umbrage with a provision that would make them have to pay for fingerprint checks against a national database, which they argue would make it harder to have as many drivers, many of whom are part-time, working at all times of day.

Council Member Sheri Gallo disagreed.

“When I look at multiple other industries that require it and probably hundreds of thousands of people in the state of Texas that have to get fingerprinted in other industries, I’m trying to understand why your industry should be the exception,” she said at yesterday’s meeting.

As for the fees, the ridesharing companies get two options: pay a $450 permit fee per driver, which taxi companies pay the city now, or pay one percent of their annual revenue in Austin.

Company representatives at the meeting said they don’t understand the need for fees and, in the case of paying what taxicab drivers pay for permits now, they argued it’s too much.

“If every driver is required to pay $450, even if they never drive for Lyft, or if they take one ride and don’t drive again, we basically don’t have a business model,” said April Mims of Lyft.

Mims says because many of their drivers work less than 15 hours a week, such a high fee doesn’t make sense. If the rules are approved, the companies will get the choice, and may opt to pay one percent of their revenue. 

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