After Prop 1 Failure, City Not Yet Able to Enforce Fingerprinting

May 13, 2016

Andrew Nierengarten used to make most of his income driving for Uber and Lyft. But since the two companies exited Austin Monday, he’s been working for another ride-hailing app: Get Me. And he says since the failure of Proposition 1, passengers assume he has been fingerprinted.


“People get in the car and they’re like, ‘Hey, you went through a fingerprint process, how hard was that?’ And I said, ‘Actually I have not gone through a fingerprint process.' And most of them are a little dismayed and they’re like, ‘Well, isn’t that what we just voted for?’”

It is. But Neirengarten says the company hasn’t contacted him about getting fingerprinted. And the city is not enforcing the law – simply because they have no penalties with which to do so.

Portion of the December ordinance that states penalties for failure to meet fingerprinting benchmarks will be determined at a later date. They have yet to be decided on.

The system for fingerprinting is already in place. The city will use Texas Department of Public Safety contractor MorphoTrust (at a cost of $39.95 per fingerprint) to handle the process. The city will receive the results of the national fingerprint check from DPS, and use that information to greenlight or ban drivers. (A list of offenses automatically banning any ride-for-hire driver from working is being finalized after council members sent a proposed version back to staff last month).

Deciding what’s at stake should companies fail to fingerprint is the only hold-up.

“[Penalties] were always envisioned as separate ordinances,” says Austin Director of Transportation Robert Spillar.

When Austin voters rejected Prop 1 by a 12-percent margin, they made clear they wanted fingerprint-based background checks for ride-hailing drivers. When the city council passed that ordinance back in December, they set up a phased-in approach – by specific deadlines, a certain percentage of the hours or miles driven by ride-hailing companies would be done by fingerprinted drivers.

The aim is to get nearly all drivers fingerprinted by Feb. 2017.

But when council passed that ordinance in December, they never set penalties for failing to fingerprint. And then, two months later, the city learned there was going to be an election, so it hit the brakes.

“Council chose not to take action on pieces of those ordinances previously,” says Spillar. “So we took that as direction to stand in place.”

And so did the companies. Those who chose to stay, at least.

“I think a lot of people were holding their breath to see what the public would say, and so I don’t necessarily fault drivers or the TNCs with not meeting that requirement,” says Spillar.

"I think a lot of people were holding their breath to see what the public would say and so I don't necessarily fault drivers or the TNCs with not meeting that requirement."

The focus now is on facilitating easy fingerprinting for drivers so companies can hit that 50-percent mark by August 1. The city’s considering a driver fair where folks can come and get fingerprinted.

But after a campaign so focused on fingerprinting, you might be surprised to hear less-than-urgent messaging to ride-hailing companies from Austin’s transportation department.

“We’re encouraging them to onboard new drivers right away. They can deploy those drivers immediately,” says Spillar. “And then the fingerprints can follow – given it’s not until next February that they need to get close to 100 percent.”