Uber Leaves Corpus Christi, Texas, After City Council Stays Strong on Fingerprint Regulations

After Tuesday's vote, several angry Uber supporters and drivers gathered outside the chambers to protest the city's decision.

by Matt Woolbright, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Texas / March 10, 2016
A pilot program in Austin, Texas, offers wheelchair accessible vehicles to Uber riders, helping to accommodate disabled travelers. Shutterstock

(TNS) -- The City Council chose to fight popular ride-hailing company Uber on background checks, and the company decided to leave.

It's the second time in as many months a council decision may have set up a November political fight.

On Tuesday, six members of the council advocated for requiring fingerprint-based background checks of drivers with companies like Uber and Lyft — a measure Uber officials told the council in a March 4 letter would cause the company to leave.

Less than 24 hours after the ordinance was adopted, Uber notified its area drivers the service will terminate here at 10 p.m. Sunday — two hours before the law goes into effect. Lyft did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

"The decision to cease operations does not come easily, but we know from experience in other markets that these rules can have a devastating impact on our ability to provide the experience that drivers and riders have come to love and expect," states the letter, which is signed by Sarfraz Maredia, the company's general manager for South and East Texas.

Now at least one of those council members — Lucy Rubio of District 3 — will have an election challenger because of her vote. Rick Gomez, owner of Gomez Properties, said he will be running for Rubio's council position.

"I don't need the city council to make my safety decisions for me," Gomez wrote on Facebook before announcing his plans.

During discussion on the issue, Rubio said the company should leave if it was unwilling to abide by the city's laws.

After Tuesday's vote several angry Uber supporters and drivers gathered outside the chambers to decide who they'll try to unseat in November. Only City Councilwoman Colleen McIntyre will have their support. Councilman Mark Scott, an advocate for Uber, also would if he weren't term-limited.

"It's time for our young city leaders and professionals to take back our city and complete the mission our current city leaders have failed to do for years," Armando Mendez wrote on Facebook on Wednesday morning.

It was a similar scene about a month before when the council dismissed a cite-and-release ordinance for marijuana offenses without discussion.

Uber's announcement came hours after city officials and police hosted a news conference about how company drivers like Uber's and Lyft's can apply for a city permit. But no permit can be issued unless the company registers with the city.

Opponents to the ordinance said any added safety of requiring a fingerprint-based background check, which is considered more comprehensive than non-biometric methods, would be negated by more drunken drivers without Uber as an option.

"And just like that our fearless city council leaders voted for an ordinance that regulates innovation and modern technology for an alternative use of transportation," Mendez wrote. "Yes, it makes ride sharing legal, but (it) bullies the operators into more regulations against their free enterprise right."

Supporters of the ordinance, including Mayor Nelda Martinez who championed the effort Tuesday, said it was a vital component for public safety.

Adolfo Garcia, an Uber driver who's driven more than 3,200 trips here, said Tuesday he expects citizens will launch a petition to undo the council's action.

Rules of the road

In addition to drivers submitting to fingerprint-based background checks (estimated to cost about $38), transportation network companies and drivers have to meet other requirements.

Drivers must:

  • Pay a $50 application fee after a clean background check,
  • Pay a $15 vehicle inspection fee,
  • Not drive more than 12 hours in any 24-hour period,
  • Drivers may not refuse to transport someone to any destination within the city limits,
  • Display a company sign on the car that's visible at least 50 feet away,
  • Drivers may not solicit customers anywhere in the city, and
  • Drivers may not respond to customers on the street who ask to hire their vehicle.

The company must:

  • Pay a permit fee equal to 2 percent of the gross revenue for each vehicle in the city quarterly, and
  • Renew permits annually

Source: City documents

©2016 the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Corpus Christi, Texas) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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