Uber, Lyft return to Austin as driver fingerprint rule overturned

The debate over checks required for public carriage drivers is over and both companies can enjoy a triumphant return.

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(Image: CNET/CBS Interactive)

Ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft are once again offering their services to Austin residents after leaving the city following a legal spat concerning the background and security checks required for drivers.

As reported by the LA Times, both companies left the Texan city a year ago after the local government pushed through an ordinance requiring fingerprint readings for taxi and public carriage drivers, a directive Uber and Lyft fought in a long battle.

The new requirements forced drivers not only to submit their fingerprints, but also a range of data reports, requirements, and background checks.

Uber and Lyft argued that a background check is enough to maintain safety and not register inappropriate drivers or slow down the hiring process, while advocates said fingerprinting is the best way to find out whether potential new recruits have criminal records.

However, the Texan Governor Greg Abbott has now intervened. Abbott has now signed into law a bill which puts state governments rather than local authorities in charge of ride-hailing regulation, thereby stripping local authorities from intervening in the Uber and Lyft businesses in the city.

The official signed the bill on Monday, saying on Twitter that "Austin's regulation trampled freedom & free enterprise."

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Screenshot via Twitter

Austin Mayor Steve Adler was "disappointed" with the decision, which he says nullifies "the bedrock principles of self-governance and limited government by imposing regulations on our city over the objection of Austin voters."

The bill now passed requires licenses and the payment of annual operations fees by companies, of which must conduct background checks on their drivers.

However, no fingerprints are required.

"Austin is an incubator for technology and entrepreneurship, and we are excited to be back in the mix," Uber spokesman Travis Considine told the publication. "We know that we have a lot of work to do in the city, but we couldn't be more excited for the road ahead."

See also: Uber faces criminal investigation over Greyball spying program

Last week, Uber admitted to underpaying New York City drivers millions of dollars in the past two and a half year. The mistake occurred through accounting issues and Uber said that each affected driver -- potentially tens of thousands of people -- will likely be given around $900 each to settle accounts.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, local law enforcement is clamping down on illegal car hiring and a total of 21 Uber drivers have recently been arrested.