Council: Call Me 30 More Cabs?

City Council considers permitting more cabs over drivers' opposition

How many cabs is too many for Austin?
How many cabs is too many for Austin? (Photo by Jana Birchum)

This week's City Council meeting (Thurs­day, Nov. 1) covers a relatively light agenda – only 61 items, plus a brief addendum. There's an even chance for everybody to go home early, soon after the 5:30pm music performance by Carrie Elkin, and the proclamations, among them recognition of the 10th anniversary of Workers Defense Project (see "Fighting for Justicia," Sept. 21).

But there are a few potential flashpoint issues, notably the third reading of ordinances (Items 27 & 28) that would allow 30 additional taxicab franchise permits to Lone Star Cab Co. (20) and Austin Cab Co. (10). This one has languished because of council indecision as well as opposition from drivers, and there is more of the same this week. In July, 45 permits hit the streets following an April council decision, and only last week the Transportation Department produced its requisite impact study. The brief document, analyzing the three intervening months, shows a 6% increase in cabs, yet a 1% decrease in trips, and a 13% increase in hours worked by drivers – while both income per taxi and income per hour decreased (5.6% and 11.9%, respectively). In other words, it appears the drivers are trying to make up revenue lost to new cabs by working longer hours.

That does not sound like a burgeoning demand for more taxis, and the drivers are calling attention to the study. A few did so already, last Saturday, at council's special-called citizen forum meeting. "Why are they adding more cabs when the need is not there?" asked D'Ann Johnson of Texas RioGrande Legal Aide, who represents the Taxi Drivers Association of Austin. She says the city is effectively making the drivers pay the freight for the excess permits granted the companies (smaller competitors to Yellow Cab, which holds the lion's share). In a statement, the TDAA described the "drastic fall in driver incomes" since July, and said approval of more permits "would simply indicate that the Council does not care for the well being of a majority minority workforce that serves the city tirelessly."

Perhaps third reading is headed for a speed bump.

Also on the agenda (Items 54 & 55) is the continuing dispute over the Outdoor Music Venue permit granted Cheer Up Charlie's on East Sixth. It may well get up close and personal, as the hearings will include both the neighbor, John Plyler, who has most directly objected to the club's post-curfew music, and club owner Tamara Hoover, who has said curfew restrictions placed on the venue have severely limited her business ("Sorry, Charlie: New Noise Curfew," Aug. 24).

The morning briefings feature a progress report on the ongoing staff revision of the Land Development Code and the formal unveiling of the East Riverside Corridor Regulating Plan – we're likely to hear more on both subjects down the line. And in other business, council will direct the city manager (Item 39) to try to come up with an "integrated emergency tenant displacement response plan" – aka, "What do we do when an apartment building falls down?"

Perhaps require the developers to build them better in the first place?

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City Council, Taxi Cab Drivers Association of Austin, Cheer Up Charlie's

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