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New background check rules considered — this time for Austin’s taxis

Austin City Council is again taking a look at background-check requirements for ride-hailing services in the city, but this time it’s focused on taxis, chauffeurs, limousines, pedicabs and horse-drawn carriage drivers.

The agenda for this Thursday’s City Council meeting contains a measure from District 5 Councilwoman Ann Kitchen that would require chauffeur’s permit applicants to pass a national-level, fingerprint-based criminal background check. A city-issued chauffeur’s permit is required for drivers of taxis, limousines, pedicabs, horse-drawn carriages and just about every other for-hire ground-based transportation service in the city except for transportation network companies such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc.

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While taxis, pedicabs and limo drivers have had to pass a fingerprint-based criminal background check in the past to get their chauffeur’s permits, those background checks only examined an applicant’s Texas criminal history. The new law, if adopted, would standardize the scope of the background check requirement with those for TNC drivers.

In an interview Friday, Kitchen said the revisions were the opening round of a broader set of possible tweaks to the city’s taxi regulations that are being developed. The measure — co-sponsored by District 10 Councilwoman Sheri Gallo, District 2 Councilwoman Delia Garza and District 7 Councilwoman Leslie Pool — also makes a number of other smaller changes to the city’s cab and limo regulations.

One revision in the proposed measure changes the city’s restrictions on the types of vehicles that can operate as a limo service. Currently, city regulations generally restrict limo service to vehicles with an extended wheelbase. Kitchen’s proposal deletes those restrictions entirely. Another revision removes the minimum half-hour advance notice required for pre-arranged rides from taxis or chartered vans.

Michael Theis covers local government, courts and economic development for the Austin Business Journal.

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