HOUSTON – When Uber decided to leave tech-savvy and tourist-friendly Austin last week, it re-ignited a fiery argument that the ride-sharing service has been having with the city of Houston for over a year.
Uber decided to pack it’s bags from the capital and also announced it would leave Corpus Christi because of local ordinances requiring fingerprint background checks.
The ride sharing service has been threatening to leave Houston because of its background check requirement for months.
News that the company had pulled out of Austin, put gasoline on an already raging fire.
“If you are creating a process that's making people jump through additional hoops, that's duplicative, that's keeping part-time drivers off the road just as demand is increasing, that's really the challenge,” said Sarfraz Maredia, Uber’s general manager for Houston.
So far, Uber has decided to stay put in Houston but discussions have been ongoing to try to get the city to do away with the fingerprint rule.
Maredia contends that the lengthy process to get drivers licensed ultimately hurts Uber’s riders who expect to get service fast.
The more people who use the app, the more drivers needed on the road and according to Uber the lengthy process is keeping drivers from getting their license.
Uber wants Houston to do away with the fingerprint requirement, but for now is keeping drivers online in the Bayou City.
The company already has drivers go through a commercial background check which takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to approve a driver.
The city said it is not going to budge on it’s fingerprint requirement, which Uber agreed to in 2014. New York City is the only other city in the nation that requires Uber drivers to undergo an FBI fingerprint background check.
Mayor Sylvester Turner has been outspoken about what the city sees as gaps in Uber’s commercial background checks.
“Their bottom line is to increase their bottom line. My bottom line is to maintain the safety of the citizenry,” said Turner.
The city issued a white paper claiming that hundreds of criminal records showed up for drivers who applied for a TNC license when they underwent the fingerprint background check.
Uber disputes this finding, claiming that these individuals weren’t ever actually approved through Uber’s platform.
There is no way to check who has actually obtained a TNC license with the city to drive for Uber, because the company filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston and the Texas Attorney general asking that the information remain private.
A court ruled in Uber's favor in March.
READ: Crimes discovered on City of Houston TNC License Background checks
The fingerprinting is actually the final phase of a 6-step process to get a TNC, or Transportation Network Company, license.
This includes, getting a fire extinguisher and Uber window sticker, completing a physical and drug test, completing a warrant check and then taking all this information to a city operated licensing center to get a permit.
The city allows drivers to operate for 30 days on a temporary license after completing the first phase of the process while they complete their fingerprinting.
“For the first 30 days somebody can drive on the strength of our background check, but suddenly at day 31 it's not sufficient,” said Maredia.
Uber drivers, known as partners, are allowed to operate elsewhere in the greater Houston area outside city limits on the company’s background checks because there are no local ordinances in place requiring additional screening.
According to the company’s own survey, 67 percent of driver partners that were approved through Uber’s screening process chose not to complete the city of Houston’s TNC licensing process because it was too time consuming, too expensive and too complex.
Mayor Turner points the finger back to Uber when it comes to keeping qualified drivers on the road.
“The drivers are coming in and they're leaving,” said Tuner, who claims he’s heard from many Uber drivers that there is high turnover.