Uber and Lyft resumed operations in a number of Texas metros this week, after Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation that overrode rules crafted by municipal governments in Austin and Houston, among others.
HB 100, signed Monday, creates a “statewide regulatory framework for ride-hailing companies,” the Texas Tribune reports.
House Bill 100 undoes local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models. It requires ride-hailing companies to have a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and pay an annual fee of $5,000 to operate throughout the state. It also calls for companies to perform local, state and national criminal background checks on drivers annually — but doesn’t require drivers to be fingerprinted.
Fingerprinting has been a hot topic in Austin, as in other cities. After city officials began mandating this type of background check, Uber and Lyft fought back — but were defeated on the issue by Austin voters in May 2016. Both companies then ceased operations there.
According to the Houston Business Journal, Lyft left Houston in 2014, after the city council passed a number of regulations, including mandated fingerprinting for drivers. Uber reportedly brokered a deal with the city to keep operating locally.
In Austin, ride-hailing apps filled a definite mobility gap, considering the city’s failed light-rail votes, congestion and faltering transit ridership, as Jen Kinney wrote on Next City last year. After the companies left town, alternatives popped up — but so did a number of innovative proposals on how to remake the city’s transportation grid, from smart city technology to better bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
On Monday, Abbott touted HB 100 as a victory for “freedom and free enterprise.”
“This is freedom for every Texan — especially those who live in the Austin area — to be able to choose the provider of their choice as it concerns transportation,” he said, according to the Texas Tribune.
Viewed through another lens, however, the bill could be seen as limiting the freedom of local governments — particularly because voters in Austin supported fingerprinting. Despite the governor’s words, HB 100 looks like yet another example of a red statehouse overriding a blue city hall.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.