Yellow Cab's San Antonio Shuffle
Cab conglomerate calls out-of-town cabs to Austin, but did it get the city's OK first?
If you hail a taxi through Yellow Cab this weekend, chance stands you may know the local roads better than your driver. The company – a subsidiary of Texas Taxi, which owns similar fleets in Houston, Galveston, and San Antonio – has spent the past two months exporting drivers from the Alamo City to assist with what Yellow Cab San Antonio President John Bouloubasis described as "unexpected increase in demand" due to Uber and Lyft leaving the city.
Bouloubasis, president of YCSA since 2010, did not return calls made to the company. He acknowledged the company's split-city deployment in a May 27 letter addressed to Austin Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar. A spokesperson for ATD said that the cab conglomerate is currently allowed to deploy 30 out-of-town taxis throughout the city. At present, Yellow Cab is sending 17 cars up from San Antonio – typically, report local drivers, for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night shifts.
ATD spokesperson Cheyenne Krause said that Texas Taxi first started sending out-of-town cabs to Austin during South by Southwest, after a request was sent by Yellow Cab and a temporary agreement was struck for the duration of the Festival. The largest local company, with more than 500 vehicle permits provided by the city, was having trouble filling its allotment after Council granted it 50 additional permits last summer; Yellow Cab thought San Antonio drivers would like the extra work. (Austin's two other existing cab companies, Lone Star Cab and Austin Cab, also got an additional 50 permits.) What the Transportation Department didn't know was that Yellow Cab would continue using out-of-town drivers after the Festival. Krause said that out-of-town drivers began receiving citations from city enforcement "once the city became aware" that the company continued dispatching drivers from other cities. Yellow Cab Austin General Manager Ed Kargbo did not return calls from the Chronicle.
The practice was ongoing and under the table for about two months until the morning of May 27, when a driver for Austin Cab showed a video of a San Antonio driver in Austin to Austin Cab's principal, Ron Means. Means, a live wire if there ever was one, in turn threw a stink to everyone – calling ATD managers Carlton Thomas, Steve Grassfield, and David Bracken before hitting up the Chronicle and eventually Mayor Steve Adler. By late afternoon on May 27, Adler had forwarded Means a memo carbon copied to him that requested an "expedited process" to "bring licensed taxicab and FBI fingerprinted independent contract drivers" into Austin from Houston and San Antonio. (Adler asked Means if Austin Cab was "in a position to help similarly." Austin Cab is not.)
That resulting agreement, spurred by a conversation with ground transportation staff, details the processes by which Yellow Cab is expected to comply by June 17. It includes regulations on trade dress, door decals, and an adjustment in price per metered mile (to meet Austin's standard rate). Drivers currently operating in Austin will need to apply for a temporary operating permit by June 17. (Which, for all that's been explained, only requires that they provide proof of permit in their home city.) The company was asked to send a list of drivers operating in Austin over to the Transportation Department that day. Krause added that drivers coming to Austin will need to get their cars inspected and that Yellow Cab Austin will need to amend its insurance policy to cover the new vehicles.