Texas Lawmakers Consider How to Deal with the Sharing Economy

By HOJUN CHOI
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

In light of the growing prevalence of services making up the state’s “sharing economy,” the Texas House Committee on Business and Industry met Wednesday to discuss the impact of city regulations associated with peer-to-peer exchange platforms.

Responding to the testimonies given at the hearing, Committee Chairman Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, told Silicon Hills News that he and the other representatives will have to study the regulations of other states that are home to ride-sharing services.

“We need to do more research on what kind of regulation they have, and see whether those measures have been effective or not,” Oliveira said.

At the hearing, much of the conversation revolved around the screening process of “Transportation Network Companies,” like Uber and Lyft, which left the city of Austin in May after failed efforts to repeal regulations that the companies deemed burdensome.

“Our mission is simple. Transportation as reliable as running water- everywhere for everyone,” said Sarfraz Maredia, general manager for Uber. “Essential to achieving this goal is the ability to operate under modern regulations that embrace technology while enhancing public safety.”

Outdated transportation regulations have made it increasingly harder for existing ride-hailing services to operate, Maredia said.. Both representatives from Uber and Lyft questioned the effectiveness of added regulations to the screening standards of these services, especially fingerprint background check requirements.

But when neither of the companies could produce data on the number and frequency of incidents that occurred during rides, several of the representatives responded with raised eyebrows.

“I don’t understand how you all cannot produce any statistical evidence,” Oliveira said.

Some ride-sharing companies, such as Dallas-based GetMe, and Austin newcomer, Wingz, told the committee that they have no problems with regulations that deal with added measures to the screening process of potential drivers.

Ed Kargbo, the president of Austin Yellow Cab, told the committee that he believes a screening process for drivers through a fingerprint-based background check is not only effective, but that it should be considered the “gold standard” for such services.

Representative Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, however, told Silicon Hills News that the support for more regulation on the screening process of these companies might not be in the best interest of public safety.

“I think you’ll find that people will try to latch onto whatever argument to back up their position,” Rinaldi said. “In reality, they’re not advocating for public safety or some other argument; they’re advocating for protections in the industry- competitive protections that will allow them to make money when they’re not providing the best product that people want.”

Though the majority of the hearing was associated with the public safety standards of ride-sharing services as well as those of taxi companies, the committee also heard from individuals from the “home-sharing” industry, such as AirBnB and HomeAway.

Matthew Curtis, director of government relations for HomeAway, told Silicon Hills News that he thinks burdensome regulations only lead to a lack of compliance.

“The added problem for the state is having to deal with ‘patchwork’ regulations that differ throughout the state,” Curtis said. “That can be very confusing.”

Representatives also heard testimony about the regulatory powers of Housing Associations in the state. The committee is scheduled to meet again tomorrow morning for a hearing on cybersecurity.

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