Uber, Lyft drive new Fort Worth ordinance


Uber driver Marcos N. Suarez checks his phone as he receives notice that he has a customer at DFW International Airport.
Uber driver Marcos N. Suarez checks his phone as he receives notice that he has a customer at DFW International Airport. Star-Telegram

It looks like Uber, Lyft and other “transportation network companies,” whose customers connect with rides using smartphone apps and other technology, will get a lot of what they want in a new Fort Worth vehicle-for-hire ordinance.

That is, if they won’t have to meet decades-old regulations designed for taxi companies.

As a matter of fact, neither will the taxi companies. Fort Worth has been working for more than a year to update and greatly simplify its ordinance, aiming for minimal regulation and allowing companies to certify that their vehicles and drivers meet key city standards.

Transportation revolutionaries like Uber and Lyft are driving the change by arguing that free markets, with customers empowered by technology to obtain convenient service and instantly let other customers know whether that service was satisfactory, will lead to an only-the-best-survive competitive environment.

City officials are going along — to a point. They’re not dropping regulations entirely.

They’re keeping key requirements aimed at ensuring rider safety, vehicle suitability and driver qualifications.

Those standards are crucial for companies like Uber and Lyft. Their business models are built on having drivers and vehicles ready at a moment’s notice, which means they must put hundreds of drivers on the street.

Anything that’s an obstacle to recruiting drivers, even if it’s just a hassle factor, impedes the smooth operation of the business model.

Fort Worth’s draft ordinance does not require driver fingerprint background checks, a recent flash point between transportation network companies and other Texas cities.

Uber, in particular, objects to fingerprint checks, saying its own background check system is effective with less hassle for drivers.

Austin will hold a citywide referendum on its fingerprint requirement after some residents sided with Uber. The company ceased operating in Corpus Christi, Galveston and Midland in disputes over background checks.

The draft ordinance would require that drivers get a picture ID from the city and pay a $75 annual permit fee. Vehicles must have a valid state inspection that meets Texas requirements, which in Fort Worth means meeting emission standards.

The City Council will consider the ordinance May 10.