Austin Rules Allow Criminals to Drive Taxis, Limos

AUSTIN, Texas -- Austin leaders have said for a year their rules for ride-hailing apps are safer than what Uber and Lyft use. The two companies left Austin Monday after the defeat of Proposition 1 and default to rules approved by Austin City Council in December.

Some critics of the city's regulations said a closer look at who the city allows to be eligible to drive other livery services troubles them.

Current city code allows people convicted of the following offenses to apply for a chauffeur's permit, which is required to operate a pedicab, taxi or limousine.

  • Criminal homicide
  • Fraud or theft
  • Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle
  • Prostitution or promotion of prostitution
  • Sexual assault
  • Sexual abuse or indecency
  • State or federal law regulating firearms
  • Violence to a person
  • Use, sale or possession of drugs
  • Driving while intoxicated

Per city code, applicants "must provide proof that the applicant has maintained a record of good conduct and steady employment since release, has supported dependents, if applicable, and has paid all outstanding court costs, supervision fees, fines and restitution that were ordered at the time of conviction."

-- Compared to Ride-Hailing Apps --

Uber and Lyft do not allow anyone with a criminal history that includes most of those offenses to drive for them.

"While I agree with second chances, I am troubled greatly by them stating that we needed to put Uber and Lyft under our regulations, when Uber and Lyft's own regulations were stronger," said Sara Levine of ATX Safer Streets.

Levine's group organized in 2014 to advocate for safe options home from Austin's entertainment district.

"The 2014 TNC regulations clearly defined the crimes that would prohibit someone from becoming a TNC driver, and we hope the City revisits this other, more comprehensive approach to driver screenings," an Uber spokesperson said in a statement Friday.

-- Efforts to Strengthen Rules Stalled --

The City Council was supposed to strengthen requirements for chauffeur's permits April 7 (Item 17), but that item was postponed amid concerns of City Council members. A similar item was removed from the May 19 agenda Friday afternoon.

"Many of them seem to me to be very harsh," District 4 Council Member Greg Casar said April 7. "If you have ever been convicted of theft at any point, you could never get a chauffeur's permit. That just seems like too much, and I would like for the staff to work on that and fix it."

Cab company owners tell TWC News a theft conviction concerns them because drivers would handle money that belongs to the company.

-- Impact of Deregulation --

In June 2015, Austin City Council removed a filter for chauffeur's permit applicants by eliminating a requirement that the applicant receive an endorsement from a taxi franchise.

Currently, it is up to the franchise to review the driver's criminal history after he or she obtain an Austin chauffeur's permit. However, that filter could also be eliminated if the taxi franchises are abolished through deregulation.

Austin's Transportation Department director sent a memo to the City Council Wednesday outlining a timeline and goals for deregulating the taxi and limo industries. The plan is expected to come before the full City Council August 4.