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Uber and Lyft to suspend Austin operations after vote on background checks

Uber and Lyft to suspend Austin operations after vote on background checks

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Austin, Texas voters have rejected a measure called Proposition 1 that would have shielded ride-hail drivers from stricter background checks, and now Uber and Lyft are threatening to cease operations entirely in the city. Uber says it will "stop" its Austin operations at 8AM Monday though it's unclear if that's a permanent withdrawal. Lyft says it will "pause operations" after previously saying it would "shut down" at 5AM according to KXAN Austin.

Proposition 1 would have barred the city from requiring drivers to undergo fingerprinting for background checks — but 56 percent of voters reportedly defeated it, clearing the way for the city to enact stricter screening measures. Austin's mayor and many residents framed it as a fight against "multi-billion dollar corporations," and it looks like that pitch worked.

Uber and Lyft have maintained that stricter background checks will hurt drivers. "Unfortunately, the rules passed by city council don't allow true ride sharing to operate," Lyft said in a statement. The company said the measure makes it more difficult for part-time drivers to join the service. "Because of this, we have to take a stand for a long-term path forward that lets ride sharing continue to grow across the country." Uber framed the result as a loss for public safety. "Disappointment does not begin to describe how we feel about shutting down operations in Austin," Uber's Austin general manager told KXAN. "We hope the city council will reconsider their ordinance so we can work together to make the streets of Austin a safer place for everyone."

Uber's explosive growth has been met with concern about safety in many places where it has disrupted the existing order of transportation services, especially as incidents involving passengers being assaulted by drivers have been publicized. In 2014, Uber unilaterally decided to increase scrutiny in background checks for drivers, requiring all new and existing partners to undergo federal and county background checks. But those checks are not always effective. That was at least true in the case of John Dalton: an Uber driver in Kalamazoo, Michigan, who went on a killing spree in February while on the job. Dalton passed a background check because he had no criminal record. Uber does not collect fingerprints for drivers, or even require any face-to-face meeting before they are permitted to start accepting fares with its app.

"As I talked to voters at the polls and on the phones, many of them like Uber's service and Lyft's, they use it," Austin's mayor pro tem told KXAN. "But they drew the line at allowing them to write their own rules."

Update May 9th, 4:01AM ET: Story updated to include timings of Uber and Lyft stoppages.