Starting Tuesday, rideshare drivers who are willing to take an extra step toward proving they have a clean criminal background will receive a $25 gas card provided by the San Antonio Police Department, Centro San Antonio, and Tech Bloc.

“As rideshare drivers choose to sign up for this incentive program, you are telling your customers that safety is important to you, too,” SAPD Chief William McManus said at the incentive program’s launch party at Paramour on Tuesday.

SAPD and the City have been encouraging drivers for months to take 10-point fingerprint background checks in addition to the third-party state and federal name background checks already required by so-called “rideshare” companies like Uber and Lyft. Dozens of drivers that have taken the 10-point checks carried out by SAPD attended the event and received their gas cards.

The event doubled as a launch and recruitment event for the local startup ride-hailing company DRIV, which will require all of its drivers to take the 10-print check and eliminate busy night surge pricing common with main competitors Lyft and Uber.

The first 600 drivers will receive a $25 Valero gas card. At least 50 cards were handed out before 6 p.m. at the event, according to a City spokesperson. SAPD will host three raffles throughout the year to further incentivize new and current drivers to go through the 10-print verification before Fiesta in April, with gas cards in the amounts of $100, $250, and $500.

The four-year plan approved by City Council with a 9-2 vote in December 2016 made the 10-point test optional for drivers. The plan was approved after years of opposition from the traditional vehicle for hire industry – whose drivers are required to take the 10-point test – and some Council members’ concerns about public safety.

McManus was unavailable for further comment on Tuesday, but during City Council’s deliberation of the rideshare plan in December he said that the third-party state and federal background checks automatically performed by transportation network companies (TNCs) are sufficient in ensuring public safety.

Ultimately, those arguing in favor of rideshare and citing San Antonio’s goals of workforce recruitment and public safety in terms of drunk driving, won the day. Tech Bloc and Centro San Antonio were among the organizations that rallied support for rideshare: as tech industry and downtown advocacy organizations, both financially backed the incentive program at $7,500 each.

A large crowd gathers at Paramour for the announcement of the Rideshare Verification Incentive Program.
Rideshare drivers and advocates packed most of Paramour’s patio and interior bar for the announcement. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Centro San Antonio President and CEO Pat DiGiovanni said support beyond this year will be based on how the pilot incentive program performs.

The other $15,000 of the program’s total $30,000 cost will be funded by the operation fees collected by SAPD from rideshare companies, Assistant Police Director Steven Baum told the Rivard Report.

To date, SAPD has received 446 applications from TNC drivers willing to take the 10-point test, approved 332 of those, and issued 295 verification cards. In November last year, 371 drivers had applied to take the fingerprint check, and 280 had been approved. No TNC driver applicant has failed the 10-point check yet, Baum said.

“I’d like to see 600 [SAPD-verified drivers] by the time Fiesta starts, and I’d like to see 1,000 before we get to the summer,” he added.

A screenshot of the verification number (T number) on the Uber and Lyft apps.

There is no guarantee on if, when, and where SAPD-verified drivers will be picking up passengers in the city, and it’s unclear how many TNC drivers total are operating in San Antonio: Many are part-time and some are inactive. Uber and Lyft have declined to release driver data. In order to identify drivers who have taken the 10-print check, passengers have to know to look for a “T number” next to their driver’s name. Rideshare company Get Me, on the other hand, includes a fingerprint icon for easy identification, giving riders the option of canceling a ride and waiting for an SAPD-verified driver to come online.

“SAPD has streamlined the process so that drivers only have to appear twice: once to present themselves for fingerprinting and a second time to obtain their City-issued ID and $25 gas card,” a City news release stated.

SAPD-verified drivers will also receive stickers for their car windows to increase visibility of the program.

“It’s easier than ever before, and your customers will see you are an SAPD-verified driver,” McManus said.

Speakers pose for a photo after the announcement of the Rideshare Verification Incentive Program hosted at Paramour.
From left: SAPD Chief William McManus applauds as Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), Centro San Antonio President and CEO Pat DiGiovanni, and DRIV co-founders Matthew J. Carter and Larry Garza pose for a photo to encourage drivers to sign up for the incentive program. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Meet DRIV

The five DRIV co-founders hope to launch their app in early April, just in time for Fiesta.

Beyond requiring the 10-print and setting a standard rate for miles, DRIV co-founder Matthew Grimley told the Rivard Report that DRIV will offer live 24/7 customer support and randomly drug test its drivers.

“[DRIV is] everything we wish we’d had when we were drivers,” he said, noting that most of the founding team members are former Lyft or Uber drivers.

Grimley said DRIV will give its drivers a bigger share of the customer’s fees, which will reduce the need for surge pricing. DRIV will take a 20% commission per fare.

Lyft raised its commission from 20% to 25% on Jan. 1, 2016. Uber also takes 25%, according to an online forum and has experimented with 30% in some markets, according to media reports.

Matt Grimley, a partner for DRIV, speaks with the crowd at the announcement of the Rideshare Verification Incentive Program hosted at Paramour.
Matthew Grimley, a co-founder of DRIV, speaks with attendees and recruits new drivers. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The biggest challenge for DRIV so far has been time, Grimley said. “We want this now.”

The local rideshare is working on finalizing both its technology and its agreement with the City, he said. “We want everything to work smoothly before we press ‘Go.’”

Meanwhile, two bills filed in the Texas Legislature this session would take away local governments’ ability to regulate TNCs. Neither would require fingerprint background checks if passed.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com