Uber Regulations Change, But At What Cost?
Today Mayor Sylvester Turner revealed at a press conference that the City of Houston and Uber have reached an agreement to keep the transportation company operating in the city at least through the upcoming Super Bowl.
While Turner has had issues with Uber and its policies on background checks, even going so far as to require Transportation Network Company (TNC) licenses which includes fingerprint background checks for all drivers operating within the City of Houston, the new agreement reached with the company indicates that Turner may be feeling the pressure of the company’s threats to cease operations in the city due to the impending Super Bowl. As part of the agreement, drug screenings and physicals will no longer be required for drivers to operate.
That said, currently all taxi drivers are required by law to undergo fingerprint background checks, drug screenings and physicals, indicating that the playing field isn’t quite level. Other changes include the reduction of Uber licensing costs from $200 to $70, as well as the fact that drivers can now apply to the company and be on the road picking up riders in the same day. Essentially, it’s easier to be an Uber driver in Houston than ever — but is that safe?
In May, Uber had threatened to leave the city due to the requirement of fingerprint background checks and asserted that changes to the regulations were necessary for them to remain in Houston. While the fingerprint requirement remains, it is difficult to imagine that a driver is able to undergo an extensive background check with the new licensing process being reduced to only 20 minutes. It is illegal for a driver to operate within the City of Houston without the required fingerprint background check, although this adjustment doesn’t seem to allow for that given the extremely brief period required for a driver to drive, which is still legal without a fingerprint background check in the areas outside of Houston city limits.
Essentially, it seems that the city is turning a blind eye to drivers that have not undergone the required background check, as well as the previously required drug screenings and physicals, simply to create more drivers prior to the Super Bowl. It would seem that although Turner’s prior regulations on Uber were stricter than most cities, he seems to be backtracking on safety requirements in order to fulfill the high demand expected in February. It’s understandable that Turner longs to effectively utilize the opportunity presented by hosting the Super Bowl, however at what cost to riders’ safety? And why does Uber exist under different regulations than the taxi cab companies that have existed for decades longer?
These are the questions that Houstonians should be asking themselves, and so should Mayor Turner.