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City reaches deal with Uber

From the inbox:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner today announced a comprehensive strategy to streamline the City’s vehicle-for-hire licensing process to ensure that Uber remains in Houston and that Houstonians and visitors have as many transportation options as possible during the upcoming Super Bowl. As part of the plan, Uber has committed to continuing operations in Houston with the use of fingerprint background checks through the Super Bowl.

“I am thrilled we can finally put this issue to rest and focus on the real task at hand—providing a great Super Bowl experience that shows off our City,” said Mayor Turner. “We’ve crafted a proposal that reduces the length and cost of a driver application but still protects public safety. This is a win for drivers and passengers alike. These changes will help make sure that visitors have a seamless experience during the Super Bowl and Houstonians have diverse transportation options to meet the growing needs of our city.”

As part of the agreement, the City will bring forward process-improvement changes to Chapter 46 of the City Code which regulates vehicles-for-hire such as taxis, limos, and TNCs (transportation network companies such as Uber). The streamlined changes will reduce the costs of licensing from nearly $200 to $70, cut the licensing process in half, and allow drivers to be licensed in under 20 minutes. The City’s policy on background checks will not change. The proposed changes are expected to come before City Council before the New Year.

Mayor Turner also announced the launch of Arro, the City’s official multimodal transportation app, which will help make the City’s fleet of over 9,000 taxi and limo drivers more readily accessible to the general public. Building on Top Taxi, Houston First’s initiative to improve the quality and customer service of Houston’s taxi industry, Arro will help transform the taxi experience in Houston.

“In a city as large and diverse as Houston, taxis and limos will always play a critical role in our transportation strategy,” said Turner. “Arro and Top Taxi will help modernize our taxi industry by making our fleet more efficient and equipping Houstonians with access to multiple forms of transportation at the push of a button.”

While initially offering taxi rides, Arro’s offerings will expand in the coming months to include limos, wheelchair accessible vehicles, and collaborations with other forms of vehicles-for-hire and METRO. Arro is available for download on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

“We are very excited to bring Arro’s consumer and driver friendly app to the people of Houston starting today. Arro’s presence is a significant step toward enhancing robust transportation options throughout Houston,” said Mike Epley, founder of Arro. “Our app has already enjoyed great success in several cities by offering a potential boost to drivers’ incomes and providing faster and easier transportation access for passengers. ”

“Houston First recognizes that reliable and safe transportation is essential to the city’s success as a destination,” says Dawn Ullrich, president and CEO of Houston First Corporation. “That’s why we launched the Top Taxi Program in 2015 to coach our taxicab drivers on delivering a better customer service experience. Now, Mayor Turner is taking it a step further with the implementation of Arro, which we believe will revolutionize the user experience with taxis in Houston. We’re excited to partner with the city on the ongoing Top Taxi program and the rollout of Arro.”

See here for the background on Arro. You may recall that Uber had threatened to leave Houston after the Austin rideshare referendum was voted down, but since those initial rumblings there hasn’t been much from either them or the city. While Council members were not lining up to support Uber in this, there was some concern expressed about the availability of vehicle-for-hire services during the Super Bowl; Arro’s development was in part a hedge against that. This agreement means that those worries can be laid to rest.

The larger fight remains unresolved, however.

The fingerprint check – as opposed to the company’s preferred Social Security number-based check – has been the major disagreement since Houston legitimized the ride providing companies in November 2014.

“Our stance hasn’t changed in any way on fingerprinting,” said Trevor Theunissen, public policy manager for Uber in Texas. “This is a compromise to improve the driver licensing process so we can get through the Super Bowl.”

The deal does not, however, slow efforts by Uber and state lawmakers to develop statewide transportation rules during the upcoming legislative session. Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed a bill Monday to create statewide transportation rules for companies like Uber, but keeps taxis regulated at the local level.

Here’s Sen. Schwertner’s statement about the city’s deal with Uber. You know, I’m old enough to remember a time when it was considered “conservative” to value local government over state or federal government, on the grounds that local government was closer to the people and thus more responsive to their needs and accountable to their votes. That just sounds so adorable now. I mean, what could we Houstonians know about our wants and needs compared to a Senator from Williamson County? So until the Legislature crushes it underneath their mighty boots, chalk up another accomplishment for Mayor Turner.

UPDATE: The Press has more.

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6 Comments

  1. Joshua ben bullard says:

    Its what turner didn’t tell you,you should be worried about.He’s still keeping a entry cap on the dying taxi industry in exchange for lots of money in campaign contributions,a practice that has been outlawed in California and most major us cities,out of “9000” taxis and limos only 900 of them are taxis left on the road and they will milk you dry if you take one,what turner is doing is forcing all citizens to pay one of 2 men an additional 30% every time you hire uber or taxi,Turner keeps in place the city law that doesn’t allow you to hire your driver direct(its currently a jailable offense) for any citizen to hire direct and keep that 30% on your kitchen table.currently 1000’s of people at NRG must pay 30% extra when they hire uber when the mayor could allow citizens to board direct(vehicle for hire zones).Turners taxi app is dead on arrival because who is going to dispatch an old taxi at a higher price than uber,the mayor should have abolished taxi entry permits and licensed out allll vehicle’s as vehicle for hires,currently the only thing that makes a taxi a taxi is turners discriminatory policy and city law.its fundamentally insane to watch this mayor take an already gigantic problem and compound it,he’s making it worse.he should abolish all limits on market entry,establish vehicle for hire zones at both airports galleria and downtown and most importantly, stop taking the money turner,were not stupid ,we know were getting ripped off because of the you and were talking 80 million to 100 million annually.2400 taxi medallions in Houston 2000 owned by one man and Turners taking hundred’s of thousands from him,and he got the money from you…..

  2. Ross says:

    Joshua, what part of “the mayor can’t do that by himself” do you not understand? Do you have any clue at all why taxis are regulated the way they are?

  3. City hall is a dinosaur graveyard.

  4. Joshua ben bullard says:

    Ross:the mayor can sign an executive order abolishing all limits on entry for taxi permits -its done in other Texas cities ,trust me there won’t be a thousand people out protesting if Turner kills the taxi medallions, we’ve looked at the mayors campaign finance report’s, he was “blessed” with hundreds of thousands from “big taxi”.

  5. Ross says:

    @Joshua, no the mayor cannot just sign an executive order. I don’t care what other cities may or may not do, there is an ordinance here controlling taxis. The mayor cannot circumvent that ordinance.

    @Joe, I thought you were leaving town for someplace “better” that loves to waste other people’s money to make you happy.