More taxicabs may be hitting Austin's streets, but not anytime soon.
Last night, the City Council approved additional permits for cab companies: 30 for Lone Star Cab (which would bring its total to 88), and 15 for Austin Cab (bringing it to 177).
However, the approvals were on first reading only; council must approve the change on three readings, which may occur concurrently. And even then, it takes 60 days for the permits to take effect.
As shown above, should Lone Star and Austin Cab receive the additional permits, their numbers will still be eclipsed by Yellow Cab, which controls 455 permits: so many, in fact, it's technically prohibited by city ordinance, which states a company may not possess more than 60 percent of the city's permits.
Council member Mike Martinez spoke to Yellow Cab’s position last night:
"This council also sees that we don’t necessarily fit this industry into existing parameters. For example, the existing franchises say that Yellow Cab should not have more than 60 percent of all the permits issued, but yet they do, but yet this council doesn’t act to dissolve their franchise that they are in violation of because they are a good business. They do good business. And yes, they are a little bit above 60 percent. But technically for those of us that have asked for us to stick to the formula or stick to the rules, we would have to shut down a major cab company in this town providing hundreds of jobs and thousands of trips.”
Several taxi items came before council yesterday, but the permitting discussion was the most contentious. Some drivers protested that granting the new permits would make it harder for already-employed drivers to make a living. A study the city commissioned last year countered that more taxis are needed on the streets during peak events like South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits festival. And the city council, given the authority to issue permits and authorize franchises, often finds itself torn between improving service for passengers and working conditions for drivers – hence compromises like the recently passed peak surcharge fee, which they hope will give drivers an incentive to operate during high demand periods in exchange for a slight uptick in fares.
Council is considering adding a total of 75 new taxi permits. Should the above 45 permits be awarded soon, council may discuss adding an additional 35 permits this summer.