HOUSTON – Uber is threatening to end their services in Houston due to what they call "burdensome" rules, including fingerprinting for its drivers.
Uber released a statement that read, in part:
"The prior Houston City Council’s decision to adopt ridesharing regulations that are vastly different than the rules introduced in other cities and states is greatly hindering our ability to improve transportation like we’ve seen in other cities."
On Wednesday, Uber released a report detailing how they feel Houston’s rules make it much harder for qualified people to become drivers, which means that the service is less reliable for passengers who want to get around the city, especially after a night out.
Mayor Sylvester Turner and several other City Council members addressed Uber's concerns Wednesday evening at a press conference.
Turner said the company's request for Houston to repeal its current regulations came as a surprise. Turner said he set down with top representatives with the company a few months and, at the time, there was no indication Uber was dissatisfied with the current arrangements.
"We appreciate the service Uber provides," Turner said. "Thousand of Houstonians use the service, and we have always worked toward a regulatory environment that allows the service to be provided while protecting public safety. We welcome Uber to Houston. We created regulations to allow them to operate here before all those other cities did."
The following information was posted on the company's website:
Over 50 percent of Uber partners drive less than 10 hours per week. They often have a full-time or part-time job and use Uber to earn extra money. Many sign up to drive seasonally, such as during the summer or over the holidays.
We have worked hard and taken extraordinary steps to help guide drivers through the current process in Houston. However, a year and a half later, it is clear the regulations are simply not working for the people of this city.
In Houston, the outdated and complex licensing process prevents many individuals who simply want to drive part-time from doing so. Currently, prospective drivers must complete approximately ten duplicative, time-consuming, and expensive steps to obtain a license to drive on a ridesharing platform. Over time, this already time-consuming process has become increasingly longer and it is now taking an average of four months for a new Houston driver to get from signup to being granted a two-year license by the City.
This bureaucracy is preventing many Houstonians who are qualified to drive from earning extra money that can help boost their household income. In fact, since the regulations were adopted, more than 20,000 people in Houston have completed Uber’s thorough screening process but did not proceed with the City’s multi-step licensing process and as a result, were unable to drive. Houstonians who could most benefit from such flexible economic opportunities are often the ones who are least able to access them.
At the same time, demand continues to grow approximately twice as fast as our ability to onboard qualified drivers. Riders ultimately end up paying the price when there are not enough drivers on the road, particularly when demand spikes during major events. For example, over the Final Four weekend in Houston, one in three trips involved surge pricing. This is unsustainable.
We are optimistic that we can work with the City in the next few months to bring Houston’s rules more in line with the rest of the country. However, if the City refuses to act, we will have to cease operations just as other ridesharing platforms previously did.
Many cities across the U.S. have taken note of the unintended consequences of Houston’s ridesharing regulations and adopted very different rules. In fact, the City of Columbus, Ohio, one of the few cities that mandated fingerprinting, recently repealed this provision, and in response, Lyft resumed operations.
Thirty states, which cover a population of more than 200 million Americans, have found a way to support innovative transportation options while preserving public safety. Uber supports these modern regulations, which include:
- Tough and comprehensive safety checks, paid for by Uber. Uber driver screenings are run by a nationally accredited background check provider that checks national, state and local criminal databases. These screenings also check against the national sex offender registry and terrorist watch list.
- Oversight by the City of Houston’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs department. The ARA would have oversight and the ability to audit Uber and other ridesharing platforms.
- Safe rides for all Houstonians. Requiring ridesharing companies to have a presence in neighborhoods that are currently underserved by other transportation options and a clear non-discrimination policy.
- Increased City Revenue. Ridesharing companies would be required to pay a fee equal to 2% of gross bookings to the City.
- Accessible Rides for All. Prohibiting the denial of service to any passenger and requiring that a wheelchair accessible option be available on ridesharing platforms.
Today, we asked the City of Houston to repeal the outdated regulations and embrace these rules for the road as many other cities and states have already done. It is our hope that we can not only continue to operate in this market, but work together with the City to improve transportation for all Houstonians.