The City of Austin received a survey in September 2011 on the city's taxi issues. Nearly a year later, the headaches continue.
At last week’s Austin City Council meeting, members again debated how to get the right amount of taxis to the right places at the right time, while ensuring an even playing field for the city's three taxi companies and their drivers.
In the end, council approved – on first reading only – the issuance of more permits to the city's two smaller companies: Lone Star Cab and Austin Cab. This week, Lone Star Cab’s franchise renewal returns to council, and Yellow Cab – which dominates the market with 400-plus permits – is also up for renewal, and additional permits.
Henry Gilmore, a representative of Lone Star Cab, attended last week’s meeting to support the resolution. For Gilmore, issuing more permits to Austin's smaller cab companies just makes sense.
“If approved, these 20 additional permits will hit the street in early October, just in time for Austin City Limits and the inaugural Formula One race here in Austin," Gilmore told the council. Without the additional permits, Gilmore said, Lone Star would have a hard time vying with its competitors, or investing in new technology to better serve customers.
However, council member Chris Riley voiced his opposition to the new permits, raising concerns that issuing more permits would exacerbate long term problems. He voted against the issuance – as he had previously done when Lone Star and Austin Cab received more permits earlier this year.
"If all we do is put more permits out on the street, that doesn't necessarily do anything to address the problem of ensuring that there is better service at those peak hours," Riley tells KUT News.
During the council meeting, Riley pointed out that the council was blatantly disregarding the Ground Transportation Department's taxi permit formula.
As KUT News previously reported, the Ground Transportation Department sets the number of permits by multiplying the previous year’s number “by the average of the percent of annual change in: (1) the population of the City; and (2) the number of taxicab departures from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.”
So what's a viable solution to addressing peak demand?
Riley suggested that the city examine last September's survey again, and consider options other than increasing the number of permits. Those measures could include issuing permits that allow taxis to operate only during peak hours – weekend evenings, for example.
Increasing the number of permits is not the best way to alleviate peak demand problems , Riley said – and won’t cultivate a "greener" or more accessible set of taxi cab companies in the Austin area.
"There are a number of solutions we have to work; there is no transportation silver bullet that's going to provide a transportation solution for everybody," said Riley.
Like a cab caught in rush hour gridlock, the taxi debate isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Second and third approval of permits for Lone Star and Yellow Cab are both on the horizon, and the council is also slated to discuss wheelchair-accessible taxis this Thursday.