AUSTIN, Texas — On Thursday, just one week after Houston police arrested an Uber driver for allegedly raping his passenger, the app-based private taxi company was at the state Capitol pushing for a bill that would authorize it to do business across Texas and reach 27 million potential customers.
House Bill 2440 would establish statewide standards for transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and its lesser-known competitor Lyft, which allow nonprofessionals to drive their own cars as vehicles for hire. (The companion Senate bill has not yet been heard in committee.) Ten states already pre-empt local rules when it comes to TNCs, including California, Virginia and Illinois, and similar legislation is pending in 27 more, Uber says. In Texas, Uber, a $40 billion company, has a presence in nearly a dozen cities and airports, though the number of drivers remains a closely guarded secret. More than 100,000 Uber customers have signed a petition to support HB 2440.
Texas’ current “patchwork of regulations,” Uber’s head of state affairs, Sally Kay, explained Thursday morning to the House Transportation Committee, is bad for everyone. A TNC driver permitted to work in Austin but not Houston, for example, cannot pick up a customer in one and drop him off in the other. But several city governments, black car companies and taxi drivers oppose the bill. They argue that municipalities should govern vehicles for hire, that Uber’s background check and insurance requirements are too lax and that TNCs simply aren’t playing fair: Why demand strict licensure and inspections, city by city, from taxis and limos but not Uber?
The TNC bill is sponsored by Republican Rep. Chris Paddie, a conservative from a rural town in East Texas not likely to see much Uber activity. (His office did not respond to requests for comment.) To him and other boosters of the bill, such as the Texas Association of Business, however, TNCs represent the best of free enterprise — innovation, disruption and the wise, untethered hand of the market.