Texas Senators have approved a bill that creates statewide regulations for ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. House Bill 100 would preempt regulations on the so-called transportation network companies in cities like Austin. The Senate passed the bill on a 21-9 vote.
The bill passed with at least two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate, so it could take effect immediately if Gov. Greg Abbott signs it, which he is expected to do.
The bill requires ride-hailing drivers to pass name-based background checks – as opposed to the fingerprint-based checks required in Austin. It also allows cities to set up data-sharing agreements with ride-hailers to collect traffic data, as well as establish programs to increase accessibility for passengers with disabilities. Ride-hailing companies would pay an annual licensing fee to the state, as well.
Abbott's signature would open the door for Uber and Lyft to return to Austin. Both ride-hailing providers left after last year's Prop 1 referendum, which upheld the city's use of fingerprint-based background checks.
In an emails to KUT, spokespeople for both Uber and Lyft said the companies would return to Austin immediately if Abbott signs the bill.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he was disappointed lawmakers passed the bill, "imposing regulations on our city over the objection of Austin voters."
"Our city should be proud of how we filled the gap created when Uber and Lyft left," he said in a statement, "and we now must hope that they return ready to compete in a way that reflects Austin’s values."
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Don Huffines (R-Greenville) questioned Georgetown Republican Sen. Charles Schwertner, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, suggesting that the licensing and background checks were onerous.
“We’re assuming with this legislation that the government’s more capable of determining who’s a safe driver and to help the passengers than the passengers are in determining that, or the companies themselves,” he said.
Schwertner defended the regulations and said the bill would preempt “overly aggressive municipalities that are trying to be protectionist” – a veiled jab at Austin’s regulations – and that the bill would level the playing field for ride-hailing apps.
"Over 40 states in this country have already acknowledged these realities and chose to enact a consistent, predictable system of regulation that licenses TNC operators at the state level,” he said. “This bill is about protecting the safety of our constituents, as well as economic liberty.”
The bill drew controversy last month in the House, when an amendment was added to the bill’s language to define sex as “the physical condition of being male or female." That language was taken out of the bill initially, but made it back into the bill passed by the Senate this afternoon.
Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) characterized that language as unnecessary for a bill regulating ride-hailing apps.
“I don’t understand why, in a transportation bill, we have to have the definition of what that condition would be,” he said. “My concern is that that line has the potential for discrimination.”
This post has been updated.