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Council OK’s additional cab permits

Friday, November 2, 2012 by Michael Kanin

After repeated delays, a heaping helping of controversy and continued pleas from partisans on both sides, members of the Austin City Council Thursday finally awarded additional franchise permits to the Lone Star and Austin taxicab franchises.


The action came over concerns and eventual “no” votes from Council Members Kathie Tovo and Chris Riley. Riley’s opposition to the permits dates back some time, and he offered no new arguments for his position. Tovo, meanwhile, latched on to a report that seemed to indicate that the addition of new cab permits above the curve provided by a much-debated official city permit formula would drive down driver income while increasing the time they spent on the clock.


“I think safety is a very important issue to consider,” she said. “I’m not sure that we’re enhancing safety when we’re being presented with information that suggests that it is very difficult to make a living as a cab driver, and I don’t think individuals out there working 16-, 18-hour days are trying to game the system. I think they’re just trying to feed their families and pay their bills, and to do that requires them working in excess of what most of us consider to be a normal day’s work.”


Tovo’s comment about gaming the system was a reference to something that Mayor Lee Leffingwell said during Thursday’s discussion. Leffingwell argued that current regulations allow a loophole that can be exploited by cab drivers who wish to work multiple 12-hour shifts virtually back-to-back, and suggested that he’d like to put a cap on driving hours.


In the end, Tovo and Riley provided the only opposition to the new permits, and Council members voted 5-2 to approve the items. The Council action means granting an additional 30 taxi permits, with Lone Star Cab Co. getting 20 and Austin Cab getting 10. Council earlier this year approved 30 permits for Lone Star and 15 For Austin Cab. All the new permits were tied to Council’s direction to City Manager Marc Ott on Dec. 15, 2011 to align the franchise ownership requirements of Lone Star Cab Co. with Austin Cab and Yellow Cab companies.


Tovo also broached the topic of whether the city was adding too many new cab permits at Tuesday’s Council work session. During that discussion, it became clear that the set of numbers outlined in the 2011 portion of the report included income and driving statistics from the weekend of the Austin City Limits festival. The 2012 figures did not.


The figures relied on a snapshot of July, August, and September of 2011 and 2012. ACL happened in mid-September of 2011. The festival did not occur until October this year. That fact seemed to suggest that the difference in income illustrated by the study may have been skewed.


With October 2012 numbers due by the middle of this month, there seemed to be some reason for another postponement of the Lone Star and Austin Cab permits. However,  Council Members Bill Spelman and Laura Morrison saved their colleagues from more debate on the matter. Spelman and Morrison each performed an individual analysis of the numbers that concluded that ACL had indeed salted the study’s conclusions.


Spelman noted that he would normally support a motion to postpone the question, because it would “only delay us about a month” if he “wasn’t sure that this ACL issue is largely figured out.”


“I did almost exactly the same analysis Council Member Morrison did,” Spelman continued. “You should never allow two people who know how to do calculus and statistics to sit next to each other. We did almost exactly the same thing, and came up with almost exactly the same answer – which is that ACL appears to increase the amount of miles, passengers, (and) total fares by somewhere between 25 and 30 percent.”


It was enough for Morrison and Spelman and their colleagues, Mayor Leffingwell, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Member Mike Martinez  to vote in favor of the permits.

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