Transportation

State Lawmaker Wants To Change The Way Uber Is Regulated

With Super Bowl just a couple of months away, Houston city officials have reached an agreement with Uber on how its drivers should be licensed. But some lawmakers say the state should regulate those companies — not local government.

App screenshot
Screenshot of UBER APP

Republican State Sen. Charles Schwertner has pre-filed a bill that would regulate transportation network companies on the state level.

His measure would require drivers to undergo a national background check. But it doesn’t ask for fingerprint checks like in Houston and Austin.   

In a statement, Schwertner says legitimate safety concerns have to be addressed and he’s calling for discussion on the issue. But he says companies shouldn’t operate under what he calls a “patchwork of anti-competitive regulations.”

Mark Jones with Rice University’s Baker Institute says conservative lawmakers have already cited several reasons why the state should regulate companies like Uber and Lyft.

“One is that some cities are engaged in policies that are inconsistent with free market approach, or at least add some regulations that are less than desirable, or at least excessively burdensome,” says Jones.  

And Jones says when the battle heats up in Austin, it could be more over politics than policy.

“And what this will probably boil down to though is a knock-down drag-out lobbying battle between Uber and Lyft on one side and the taxicab companies in cities like Houston and Austin on the other,” adds Jones.

As for the situation here in Houston, a spokesman for Schwertner calls the city’s rideshare rules “onerous.” He adds it has nothing to do with public safety, but instead protects the financial interests of taxi companies and unions.

Mayor Sylvester Turner is asking lawmakers to respect the city’s jurisdiction and to keep Uber under local control.

“Don’t do what people complain that the feds have done to the state,” says Turner. “If that argument is good for them against the feds, I think it’s still good for us as it relates to the state.”

Under the city’s agreement with Uber, Turner says they’re streamlining the application process for drivers, but the fingerprint requirement will stay in place in the interest of public safety.

It’s now up to Houston City Council to approve that agreement.

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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