AUSTIN—More than 65,000 Austin voters signed a petition to repeal the city's pending rules for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft.
Both companies threatened to leave Austin if those rules take effect. The biggest point of contention is a required fingerprint background check of drivers.
The group Ridesharing Works has gathered the signatures in just three weeks.
"We collected more signatures than votes cast for mayor ever elected in the City of Austin," said Caroline Joiner, Treasurer of Ridesharing Works for for Austin. "It's unprecedented; it was an overwhelming response. We averaged 3,100 signatures a day."
Austinites for Geographic Representation led the city's last ballot petition effort with a goal of creating the current 10-1 City Council system. It took members of that organization nine months to gather half as many signatures as Ridesharing Works for Austin received in three weeks.
The group submitted 23,000 of those signatures to the city clerk Tuesday. City code requires a minimum of 20,000 signatures to be verified in order to require the City Council to either adopt the ordinance supported by the petition, or put the ordinance up for a public vote.
Mayor Adler's Alternative Plan
Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Steve Adler discussed his plan to make fingerprint backgound checks optional. He referred to his "Thumbs Up Badge" program as "San Antonio's rideshare policy on steroids."
Adler said it is similar to what eBay uses to identify top-rated sellers--and how Facebook and Twitter showcase verified accounts.
Approved drivers who also undergo a fingerprint background check would receive a "Thumbs Up Badge" that would indicate their extra tier of clearance.
"I am not talking about the city in this proposal mandating or imposing fingerprinting on anyone," Adler said.
Instead, he said an independent third party could issue the badge after verifying the driver's background checks.
San Antonio Police told Time Warner Cable News Tuesday that, as of late December, 82 drivers had applied for the optional fingerprint background check. None of those drivers have failed the screening.
The Austin City Clerk expects to take the rest of the week to validate the signatures submitted Tuesday.
At that point, Ridesharing Works for Austin will give the Austin City Council 10 days to adopt its ordinance or call for a May election.
Currently, ridesharing rules would be the only item before Austin voters.
Joiner said a special election could cost between $500,000 and $900,000.
"The easiest thing and the cheapest thing to do would be for the Council to recognize this overwhelming show of support, and go ahead and adopt the language that is in this petition," said District 8 Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair.
Troxclair and Joiner believe the city would have to cover the cost of a special election.
This is what is proposed to appear on the ballot if an election is called:
"Shall the City Code be amended to repeal Ordinance No. 20151217-075 regulating Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) and codify TNC rules contained in Ordinance No. 20141016-038, with the addition of an annual fee equal to 1% of the TNCs’ gross revenue, an application process, and a process for notification and resolution of violations."
Below is the ordinance submitted to the City of Austin along with the 65,103 signatures.