The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved a bill creating statewide rules for ride-hailing companies.
The proposal would, if signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, do away with local rules regulating the industry in Galveston and other Texas cities.
Uber, one of the most popular ride-hailing companies, said it intended to return to Galveston if the bill is signed.
House Bill 100 requires that ride-hailing companies have permits through the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, and pay an annual fee to the state. Companies are required to perform background checks, but are not required to fingerprint their drivers.
Ride-hailing companies use mobile phone applications to allow users to order cars. Drivers for these companies generally use their own private vehicles, and operate on a self-determined schedule. The drivers pay a percentage of their fares back to the company.
The largest of these companies, Uber and Lyft, have objected to local rules by cities, including Austin, Houston and Galveston, that require drivers to be fingerprinted to operate. The company says fingerprinting regulations are onerous, while cities have said they protect customers.
The bill passed the Senate 21-9. Sen. Larry Taylor and Sen. Brandon Creighton, who represent parts of Galveston County, both voted in favor of the bill.
Reps. Wayne Faircloth and Greg Bonnen both voted to approve the bill, and joined on it as co-authors, when it passed the House of Representatives on April 19.
Galveston approved its own ride-hailing rules in January 2016. The rules required — as they have in other cities — that ride-hailing drivers submit to a police background check, including a fingerprint check, before being licensed to operate in the city.
Those rules came after city officials determined that Uber was operating in Galveston illegally under existing city rules, which were written for taxi cabs. Some ride-hailing drivers had been ticketed in Galveston.
The new rules were supported by Galveston’s cab companies, which lobbied the city council to hold the new businesses to similar standards.
Soon after Galveston’s rules were approved, Uber shut down access to its app within city limits and, through an automated message, urged users to contact the city council and asked for the rules to be changed.
The council has not reconsidered its ride-hailing ordinances since the new ordinance was passed.
Only one ride-hailing company, called Get Me, has operated in Galveston since the new rules were approved. It is possible to travel into the city using an app-based service, but it is not legal to use an unregistered company to ride out of it.
It’s unclear whether the statewide rules will mean an immediate return to Galveston. The company responded in an inquiry from The Daily News with a prepared statement.
“A statewide framework for ridesharing will help bring greater economic opportunity and expanded access to safe, reliable transportation options to more Texans,” said Sarfraz Maredia, the general manager for Uber Texas. “We look forward to making Uber available in more cities across Texas and continuing to serve drivers, riders, and the communities in which they live.”
A spokesman later said the company planned to be in Galveston, and would release an accurate timeline after the legislation is signed.
Galveston City Manager Brian Maxwell said the city would comply with the new law, but that he would recommend to the city council that local rules for taxi companies be loosened to match the new state-required rules for ride-hailing drivers.
“It’s unfair to put taxis at a disadvantage,” Maxwell said.
Because the Senate passed the bill by a two-thirds majority, it would go into effect immediately if Abbot signs it.