Mayor Sylvester Turner has one thing to say in response to Uber's threat to leave Houston if the city does not change its fingerprint requirements for drivers. "If it comes down to public safety on one hand and Uber staying on the other, I don't think it is even close."
His comments came in a City Hall press conference Wednesday afternoon in response to a letter he received from the popular ridesharing company, which has operated in Houston since February 2014.
In a lengthy post Tuesday that appeared on the company's website before the mayor received a copy, Uber general manager Sarfraz Maredia warns, "We are optimistic that we can work with the City in the next few months to bring Houston’s rules more in line with the rest of the country. However, if the City refuses to act, we will have to cease operations just as other ridesharing platforms previously did." The post was sent in letter form to the mayor and city council members.
While fans of Uber call foul, the mayor shared driver information that was discovered when the city ran fingerprint checks on drivers that had passed Uber's background checks. One driver, according to the mayor, had 24 aliases, five birth dates, 10 social security numbers and an active warrant for arrest.
He added that there were hundreds of Uber-approved applicants who had histories of murder, assault and battery, DWI, prostitution and aggravated assault.
Uber countered in an email later in the afternoon, "The City’s current licensing system is inherently flawed and does not confirm if TNC license applicants have actually passed Uber’s screening process. The only documentation TNC license applicants must show before applying to be a TNC driver is a 'U' trade dress sticker. These stickers, which can easily be purchased online or replicated, are not valid verification that an individual has passed Uber’s screening process."
At the same time, the Mayor acknowledged that he has the Uber app on his smartphone, and said "We would love Uber to stay. We want them to stay but only if they follow our rules that create a level playing field for everyone."
While Uber says it wants to work with the city on a compromise, the threat of discontinuing business in Houston could put a wrench in those implied negotiations as the mayor was not amused. "This is not the way we should be conducting business," Turner said. "I'm happy to sit down with you but I'm not going to do business with you with a gun to my head."