Houston 101

Uber Agrees to Stay in Houston Through Super Bowl...Then What?

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Wednesday what is likely to be a major relief to the city's thousands of Uber users: At least through the Super Bowl, Uber has promised not to leave.

As part of the compromise, Uber will agree to continue requiring fingerprint background checks for drivers (which it has been fighting for months, saying it's too onerous and redundant). On the city's end, officials will lower the costs of licensing from $200 to $70, cut the licensing process in half for drivers and ensure they can get licensed in under 20 minutes. That means no more physical exams for drivers, and no more drug tests unless there is probable cause.

“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,” Turner said. “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."

Turner also announced a new transportation app, called Arro, that will operate similar to the way Uber does but for taxis. In the coming months, Turner said, limos and wheelchair-accessible vehicles will also be available on Arro; collaborations with Metro are also a possibility.

You might want to give it a download, because from the sounds of the "compromise" between Uber and the city, Uber's future in Houston still seems pretty uncertain.

Uber's terse, two-sentence statement seems to emphasize not once, but twice that this compromise extends "through the Super Bowl." Asked what happens after the Super Bowl, an Uber spokesperson told us the city's changes in regulations were a step forward — but still out of line with what the rest of the country was doing.

That's because Uber has consistently maintained that the fingerprint background check is simply unnecessary, and only complicates the licensing process. Uber uses a private service for national background checks. Turner, on the other hand, has refused to budge, saying the fingerprinting is necessary for public safety reasons.

The solution to the kerfuffle appears to lie in the Legislature: Earlier this week, Senator Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) filed a bill proposing that the state regulate ride-share companies like Uber instead of individual cities.

Nowhere in his bill do fingerprint background checks appear.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn