City Council Preview: Electric Rates, Weekend Rail, Plus Bags and the Taxi Vomit Fee Returns

Feb 9, 2012

The Austin City Council convenes again today, considering a heady, 61-item agenda. If this weekly preview is beginning to sound like a broken record, that’s because council keeps slogging through several controversial topics: Austin Energy’s embattled rate increases, contentious cab issues and the disposable bag ban. Luckily, debate over extending Capital Metro’s rail service will keep things fresh.

Electric Rate Redux: A public hearing on Austin Energy’s recently tweaked proposals raising electricity rates is scheduled for 6 p.m. The changes haven’t received much acceptance from opponents of the original proposal. Joining the ranks of council members floating changes to the rate proposals are Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo, who prior to the meeting’s 10 a.m. start will “announce a proposed alternative to Austin Energy’s recommended rate increase.”

Red Line Coming to the Weekend?: An agreement may be reached today on expanding Capital Metro’s Red Line rail service to the weekend. Cap Metro would essentially fund the expansion to Friday night and Saturday out of money it already owes the city. The cost of the service – estimated at $4.5 million over two years – and whether it’s the best use of funds as the city considers other rail projects, will likely spark some lively discussion today.

Bag It!: Austin’s proposed disposable bag ban has received its fair share of attention, including a write-up in The New York Times. At a 10:30 a.m. briefing, Austin Resource Recovery  director Bob Gedert will deliver a briefing on the proposed single use bag ordinance. As the proposal has changed numerous times, you can read our recap on the ban’s evolution

More Cab Changes Coming: The ever contentious topic of taxi regulation returns to council chambers today. Council is considering the issuance of additional permits: 30 to Lone Star Cab, and 15 Austin Cab. The last time council discussed issuing more permits to existing franchises, companies seeking to enter the city-regulated market used it as a chance to pitch their own services.

Council will also consider changes to the number of passengers a single cab can serve, tying it to the number of seats with seat belts. Currently, the number is capped at a flat four passengers.

And lastly, the “vomit fee” for passengers that get sick in cabs returns. The item calls for a $100 clean-up fee if a fare befouls a cab’s interior “with bodily fluids or solids.” (Can we just say: ewww.)

Two options for enforcement were discussed: adding the fee to a fare, with police issuing a ticket against passengers should they not pay; or the cab driver collecting reimbursement from the city’s Ground Transportation department. It’s unknown which option the council will go with, should they elect to implement the fee.