In June last year, San Antonio’s City Council convened a task force to craft recommendations on an ordinance that would allow Uber, Lyft and other transportation network companies (TNCs) to operate legally in San Antonio. In December, the Council adopted a set of fair, reasonable and business-friendly regulations, similar to Houston’s, that put public safety first. The regulations require Uber and Lyft drivers to get an FBI fingerprint check when they’re screened, just like taxi drivers, teachers, electricians, daycare providers and plumbers – people to whom we entrust our lives, our kids’ lives and invite into our homes. Not too onerous, right?
The regulations also require TNC drivers to get their vehicles inspected and carry adequate insurance so that we avoid in San Antonio what has happened in other cities throughout the U.S.: a TNC driver is in an accident, their personal insurance won’t cover damages and Uber refuses to pay as well.
But Uber is balking at these requirements in San Antonio, despite the fact that they already comply with very similar regulations in other cities. Uber is threatening to leave San Antonio if our Council doesn’t water down the ordinance and compromise its public safety standards. They have purposely made this issue into a litmus test of San Antonio’s business climate, something that smells a bit like blackmail at worst and expensive Washington public relations tactic at best.
But our City Council knows something that would keep anyone up at night and it’s this: Everything’s fine until something goes wrong. Let’s say our City Council caves in to the pressure tactics currently being applied by this $40 billion California company and designed by David Plouffe, one of President Obama’s former political wizards who heads up Uber’s campaign to operate with as little regulation as possible. Let’s say they throw out the insurance requirement or overlook the fingerprint check for drivers. And then, a tragic accident happens, or – God forbid – another driver-on-passenger attack like the ones that have happened with Uber in Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington, D.C. recently. Where will the blame be assigned for allowing this to happen? The blame will fall squarely on the shoulders of the City Council members currently being squeezed to back down from their strong stand for public safety. Because ultimately, it is they who are accountable for our citizens’ safety, not Uber.
Uber’s motives are clear: the less regulation, the more profit. So let’s put our cards on the table, Uber. You fought a great fight. But we’ve seen this playbook before in cities throughout the U.S. You say you’re going to leave unless standards are weakened for you (like you’re doing in Salt Lake City and the way you did in Houston) but really, you’re just making sure you’ve squeezed every concession possible out of our Council. That is certainly your right. But the Council’s first responsibility – any government’s first responsibility – is ensuring the safety of the people. That’s what the TNC regulations should do.
So come on, Uber. Get on board. In six months, the Council is already set to review the regulations anyway. Follow the same rules teachers, plumbers and taxi drivers do for six months and then make your case. Be a good corporate citizen. San Antonio’s arms are wide open for you and the taxi industry welcomes the competition.
*Featured/top image: Taxi file photo. Photo by Flickr user Emanuele.