Uber offering horse and buggy rides to protest regulations

If you ask Uber, trying to regulate its service and other ride-hailing companies would be to undo progress on how people get around nowadays.

This was clear in a Statesman editorial board conversation last month with David Plouffe, a chief adviser to Uber, in which he argued that proposed Austin City Council regulations are “backwards” and would be trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

Now, Uber is going above and beyond simple rhetoric and launching a horse and buggy version of its service meant to simulate what the service would be reduced to if Austin City Council’s regulations passed.

The “special service” is named in honor of Council Member Ann Kitchen, the chair of the Mobility Committee that reopened the debate over regulating ride-hailing services this fall after a yearlong grace period.

“Kitchen’s plan would require Uber driver partners to undergo the same background requirements of horse and carriage operators in Austin,” Uber spokesperson Debbee Hancock said in an email. “One would hope that the City’s laws would innovate with technology but in this instance, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Those “19th century” background requirements? Fingerprint-based criminal background checks. Uber, as well as its competitor Lyft, currently perform name-based background checks on prospective drivers in lieu of fingerprint-based checks, which they argue would limit their driver pool because it would cut out potential drivers who were arrested but never convicted.

Austin City Council is set to vote Nov. 16 on the ordinances requiring fingerprint-based criminal background checks and fees for ride-hailing companies.

Austin American-Statesman reached out to Kitchen for comment.

If you’re looking to take advantage of the deal, “Kitchen’s Uber” will cost you a $50 flat fee and be available in a restricted area of downtown Austin Thursday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

City of Austin rules prohibit horses from operating on the streets of Austin before 6 p.m.

For more details on the horse and buggy service, check out Uber Austin’s posting on “Kitchen’s Uber.” For more on the friction between Austin City Council and ride-hailing companies, follow Statesman transportation reporter Ben Wear.

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