Screenshots from the rideshare mobile applications Uber (left) and Lyft (right).

Editor’s Note: After Thursday’s vote approving the revisions, Uber has announced plans to leave San Antonio. Click here to read the latest story, “Rideshare Revisions Pass: Uber Leaving Town, Lyft on ‘Pause.’

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Uber Texas General Manager Chris Nakutis sent a letter to media and City officials Wednesday afternoon stating that proposed revisions to the rideshare ordinance is not enough to keep the transportation network company (TNC) in San Antonio.

The revised draft ordinance significantly reduces the amount of processes drivers and TNCs have to go through to operate legally, and is scheduled to come up for a City Council vote Thursday morning. Click here for agenda details.

“Even with the proposed changes, this regulatory framework remains one of the most burdensome in the nation and stymies our ability to operate in San Antonio,” wrote Nakutis. “This is why we asked the city to repeal the entire ordinance and replace it with smart regulations similar to those adopted by nearly two dozen other jurisdictions, including Austin. Without a full repeal, we will be forced to leave town.”

The proposed revised ordinance:

  • removes insurance requirements during the “coverage gap,” when the rideshare app is on but the driver has not been matched with a customer, and reduces requirements when a driver is matched, but hasn’t picked up a passenger yet;
  • allows for random drug testing rather than mandatory drug testing;
  • grants a 14-day window for drivers to complete a background check issued by the TNC (instead of an advance-of-work, city-reviewed criminal background check that includes fingerprinting);
  • eliminates the annual vehicle permit fee ($160), application fee ($110), and two-year driver permit ($15);
  • establishes a fee to be charged each rideshare company based on the number of its local drivers, ranging from $625 for up to 10 drivers to $25,000 for more than 300;
  • allows TNCs to vouch for drivers instead of requiring them to appear in person to meet with San Antonio Police Department staff to submit their materials;
  • removes the requirement for drivers to carry a fire extinguisher;
  • removes the requirement for drivers to prove they are proficient in English.

Click here to download the complete list of recommended changes from the SAPD that will presented Thursday by Interim Police Chief Anthony Treviño. Included in that list is to conduct a review of the local rideshare industry and ordinance in December.

This interactive graphic from NOWCastSA compares rideshare ordinances across four major Texas Cities, but does not include the proposed revision ordinance that will be voted on by City Council Thursday.

Taxi drivers are required to submit to a background check and drug test before obtaining an annual $440 permit – among other requirements.

“Uber is playing the city like a bunch of rookie pawns,” said Yellow Cab President John Bouloubasis, who called the announcement an “idle threat to leave if the City doesn’t acquiesce to their every demand.”

Bouloubasis said he finds it hard to believe that Uber, worth almost $41 billion, can’t afford to comply with simple regulations that already require less of rideshare drivers than taxi drivers.

“Why can’t they just operate under good faith for once and then we can review it in December? The City got it right the first time.” he said. “They’re ducking accountability and responsibility. … They’ve got the mayor frightened of her own shadow. If she waffles and goes back on her word … people are going to wonder if she can make a decision and stay with it.”

John Bouloubasis, president of Yellow Cab San Antonio, speaks with media after the City Countil Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
John Bouloubasis, president of Yellow Cab San Antonio, speaks with media after the City Countil Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The original ordinance approved in December with a 7-2 vote is designed to regulate TNCs, rideshare companies that connect drivers of personal vehicles to customers via a mobile application. Two council members, Ron Nirenberg (D8) and Rey Saldaña (D4), voted against it. Uber officials announced in February a planned pullout from the city coinciding with the March 5 date the original ordinance was set to take effect. Rideshare company Lyft followed suit. The ordinance was heavily supported by the local taxi and limousine industry, and protested by many urbanites who have to rely on the highly popular services.

Uber and Lyft called the ordinance a “barrier to the market.”

City officials responded to public outcry over the possible loss of rideshare service in the city, and set about crafting a revised ordinance last month. Rideshare companies and supporters received a five-day grace period beginning March 1, the date the ordinance was supposed to take effect, while Mayor Ivy Taylor, members of City Council, and staff finalized the revised ordinance. Now, even before the revised ordinance comes up for a vote, rideshare companies are renewing their pullout threat.

“Drivers and riders in San Antonio were hopeful when they learned Mayor Taylor  would delay implementation of the redundant requirements and lead the charge to create modern regulations for ridesharing in San Antonio,” Nakutis stated. “However this hope was short-lived as the City Council’s revised ordinance still includes many of the same duplicative and unworkable driver requirements. The anti-competitive provisions of the ordinance remain intact – many of them requiring drivers to spend time and money jumping through municipal hoops to achieve objectives already accomplished by the Uber platform.”

Recently retired Police Chief William McManus was the driving force behind the move last year to tightly regulate Uber and Lyft, branding the services and their independent drivers as lawbreakers. The public, on the other hand, embraced rideshare companies as a welcome transportation option, one that employs smart phone apps to put affordable ride service at the fingertips of customers. Many users cite it as the most effective tool available to combat drunk driving.

*Featured/top image: Screenshots from the rideshare mobile applications Uber (left) and Lyft (right).

This story was originally published on Wednesday, March 3, 2015.

Related Stories:

Commentary: Rideshare Should Get On Board with Existing Rules

Rideshare Ordinance Now on Hold, Pending Revisions 

City Crafting Alternative Rideshare Ordinance

MADD: San Antonio is Safer With Rideshare

Not Okay With Just Okay: Rideshare and Innovation in San Antonio

Commentary: ‘Rideshare’ Needs Rules

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

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