Council approves regulations for rideshare companies

Uber, Lyft officials voice protests against new regulations

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio City Council on Thursday voted in favor a new set of regulations governing rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber -- both of which have been operating illegally in San Antonio for months.

"Had TNCs not decided to thumb their nose at our police chief and our city government nine months ago, this could all be resolved," said outgoing District 2 Councilman Keith Toney.

TNCs use mobile technology to couple people who need rides with drivers who have space in their personal vehicle. Officials with both Uber and Lyft have said these regulations are a barrier to doing business, and they'll consider leaving San Antonio if the policies are approved.

"A yes vote (for the regulations) means we'll have to cease operations here," said Uber General Manager Leandre Johns. "A lot of what is in the current ordinance just disallows us from being able to provide a service here in San Antonio."

The local cab industry pushed the tougher regulations for months, encouraging the council to vote in favor of things like drug screenings, fingerprint background checks, vehicle inspections, permitting fees and auto insurance with varying levels of coverage.

"It's not a barrier to entry, it's a cost of business," said Yellow Cab President John Bouloubasis. "If they're saying that (they will leave San Antonio if the regulations pass) what's that tell you about the TNCs and their commitment to operate here in the city legally?"

Uber and Lyft officials have said the public safety measures and insurance requirements would make it very difficult -- if not impossible -- for them to operate in San Antonio, costing people their jobs or, in many cases, a supplemental form of income.

"If you take Uber away, you take my livelihood away," said Uber driver David Micheletti.

"I would not have had a chance to do this if there were numerous hoops to jump through to become a ridesharing driver here in San Antonio," said Lyft driver, mother and full-time student, Soriya Ahmed.

Lyft recently suspended operations in Houston due to their strict rideshare ordinances. Lyft representative, April Mims, said the company must now consider whether operating in San Antonio is an economic possibility.

"This is one of the most onerous and burdensome ordinances that we have ever come across," said April Mims of Lyft. "I'm going to have to go back to Lyft and have some very difficult conversations. I can say that it's difficult for me to figure out how we would come to a different solution than we have in other places."

In addition, Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson released this statement following the council's decision:

"Despite the common-sense recommendations made by the stakeholder task force, the ordinance passed by the City Council will make it nearly impossible for ridesharing to operate in San Antonio. Elements of the rules will place unnecessary, burdensome requirements on individual drivers without any benefit to public safety or consumer choice. Cities across the country, including Austin, have crafted rules that preserve Lyft's safe, affordable rides. We urge the city to reconsider these regulations and listen to residents who have made it clear they want more transportation options in San Antonio."

The new regulations go into effect March 1. Until drivers come into compliance with the new regulations, it will remain illegal for them to operate in San Antonio.

District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg made a motion to delay the vote that failed. He issued this statement shortly after the council passed the regulations:

"Today, I disagreed with and voted to postpone an ordinance that ostensibly integrated new transportation options, but effectively creates an environment that stifles innovation. By increasing the cost of doing business past what public safety requires, governments threaten competition in new and evolving markets, which is counterproductive to consumer choice and safety. The entry of transportation networking companies (TNCs) poses an enormous opportunity for our city to accelerate progress over parochialism, and innovation over market intervention. I believe that we should work together to revise the provisions that were adopted today in order to promote a vibrant and safe private transportation industry in San Antonio."