Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

At Black Star Co-op in North Austin, workers take food and drink orders, doling out burgers and beers on a recent weekday. Ask who owns the place, and the response might confound you: the members, or a select number of customers.

KUT News

The Austin Transportation Department will consider untangling the city’s franchise model of taxi companies in an attempt to “address equity” between for-hire drivers in the city. The news comes after the failure of Proposition 1 on Saturday and the exit of ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft two days later. The proposed changes would usher in an open market system for cabs, bringing them more in line with the way ride-hailing companies operate in the city. Historically the city has capped the number of cabs in the city – keeping that number of operating vehicles at just over 900.

Jorge Sanhueza Lyon/KUT

For once, rules batted around on the dais did not concern Uber and Lyft drivers. Austin City Council members Thursday approved nationwide criminal background checks for would-be chauffeur permit holders – those authorized to drive taxicabs, pedicabs, limos or city charter buses. It’s another step in what has been a lengthy attempt to align the regulations that govern cab drivers and ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

To see the speed of technological innovation, look no further than a street corner. Hailing a cab from the street is less common in cities with Uber, a service that lets you request a ride with the simple tap of a mobile phone app. The 5-year-old company — now valued at $17 billion — is growing so fast that it's operating in 128 cities globally, on every continent except Antarctica. But its disruptive entrance to the market means it's facing some growing pains worldwide. "In 128 of our cities...

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Have you ever been denied a cab ride in Austin? After last week's deadly crash on Red River Street, there's been calls for more and better public transportation and taxi service. But during special events like South by Southwest, it seems like more and more Austin taxis refuse to take riders for a variety of reasons. Carlton Thomas with the City of Austin’s Parking Enterprise says the most common reason is that "drivers are not interested in taking the short trips." He should know, because all complaints about cab drivers come to his department.

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT News

The city of Austin has a long-running dispute with the various ride-sharing groups -- people who say they are in their cars anyway, so through mobile apps they offer to “share” their ride in exchange for some money. The city has said that’s an illegal taxi, but today it made a truce with Sidecar. San Francisco-based Sidecar says it’ll disable its mobile app until the Austin City Council meets again in August. Conversations and negotiations will take place in the meantime, because ride-sharing services found loopholes that they say allow them to operate legally in the city.

City Reconsiders Ban on Ride-Sharing Apps

Jun 5, 2013
Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

Tomorrow the Austin City Council could settle a controversy over ride-sharing apps. These apps let residents offer rides to others for small fee or donation. Some people who say the apps would make their lives easier. Riding the bus to buy groceries becomes much more complicated for people like Jackson Sheehan. “It’s kind of a pain because you are limited on the amount of groceries you can take,” Sheehan said. “It’s kind of whatever you can carry in your arms and backpack. In a car, it says...

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Austin’s taxi drivers association is affiliating with the largest federation of unions in the United States, the AFL-CIO. At a press conference today, the Taxi Drivers Association of Austin announced a partnership with the AFL-CIO’s National Taxi Workers Alliance.

Police may begin impounding the vehicles of unlicensed drivers who offer rides for money – and that includes drivers using online apps like SideCar. Item 30 on this week’s Austin City Council agenda would allow police to impound “a ground transportation service vehicle operated in violation” of the city code governing transportation franchise agreements, like the ones in place with Austin taxi companies.

Caleb Miller for KUT News

Even though it’s Monday, it’s still a “No Refusal” weekend for Austin drivers. From 9 p.m. through 5 a.m., the Austin Police Department will ask suspected drunk drivers to take a mandatory breath test. And if drivers don't agree, police will ask for a subpoena for DWI suspects' blood. The Austin Police Department says 23 people were arrested for DWI on Sunday. In an effort to keep Austin’s roads safe, Capital Metro and APD have partnered to provide free Cap Metro services from 6 p.m. until 3 a.m. Buses will run on a regular schedule tonight, but will be reduced to Sunday level service on New Year’s Day. For more information, visit .

Tyler Pratt for KUT News

Update (Nov. 2, 7:30 a.m.): Austin City Council members voted 5 to 2 Thursday to grant a total of 30 new taxi permits to two of the city’s cab companies. Members of the Taxis Drivers Association of Austin had argued that there are too many cabs on the road and that they’ve seen a decline in income. But the two cab companies say the new permits are necessary to help level the playing field between them and their larger competitor. "[We are in favor of the vote] In order to improve our company's service to not only our passengers, but to our drivers. We've been waiting since December of last year to find out if were receiving 10 additional permits," Bertha Means of Austin Cab said.

Ihwa Cheng for KUT News

Austin taxi drivers are working more but seeing a decline in income and business. And, as you might imagine, many aren’t happy about that. The Taxi Drivers Association of Austin (TDAA) is even more upset that the trend may be exacerbated if the Austin City Council approves 30 new cab permits on Thursday. The TDAA says the noticeable decline in business happened after a first round of new cab permits approved by the Austin City Council hit the streets in July. Because, while more taxis on the streets means more options for riders, it means more competition for drivers. A new report released by the City of Austin’s Transportation Department finds the average cab driver made about one fewer trip in July 2012 than in July 2011. Cab drivers made an average of $461 less this July than last—equivalent to a drop of $2.40 an hour. That’s despite an increase in cab fares but doesn’t take tips into account.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The City of Austin received a survey in September 2011 on the citys taxi issues. Nearly a year later, the headaches continue. At last weeks 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 citys three taxi companies and their drivers. In the end, council approved on first reading only the issuance of more permits to the citys two smaller companies: Lone Star Cab and Austin Cab. This week, Lone Star Cabs franchise renewal returns to council, and Yellow Cab which dominates the market with 400-plus permits is also up for renewal, and additional permits.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Several high-profile items were put on hold at todays Austin City Council meeting . One of the items delayed was a resolution requiring additional permitting for outdoor amphitheaters, pushed to councils next meeting. A decision on the sale of the former Green Water Treatment Plant site was also pushed forward, all the way to April 26. Council members seek to spend the postponement time improving the affordable housing options at the development. But one ongoing saga drew to a close almost. Council approved a total of 45 additional permits for Lone Star Cab and Austin Cab, a process that required three separate readings. That said, the ordinance wont take effect in two months.

Callie Hernandez, KUT News

Spring break is definitely over. The Austin City Council convenes to an 89 item-long meeting this morning. Some heavy lifting was accomplished earlier this week, with a general work session and a specific one delving into Austin Energy rate changes, but theres still plenty happening today: How Ya Like Them Apples? : A proposed incentives deal with tech-giant Apple is the meetings main event. The city would rebate the company 10 years worth of real and personal property taxes, estimated at $8.6 million, in exchange for meeting investment and job-creation benchmarks. The state is throwing in even more $21 million .

Photo by I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

How should the city decide how many taxi permits to issue? Believe it or not, Austin actually has a formula. And its not terribly arcane either, like the number of UT home games multiplied by number of South by Southwest venues divided by new Eastside dive bars. Instead, theres a longstanding equation, last revisited nearly a decade ago, that the city uses to assess how many cabs it should have on the streets. But that equation may change beginning this week. As laid out in the city charter , the Ground Transportation Department sets the number of permits by multiplying the previous years 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.

Photo courtesy

Nearly four hours into todays Austin City Council meeting, and its still barely getting started. While action hasnt yet occurred on several high-profile items, the council approved Item 15, which should bring back the Trail of Lights this holiday season under the sponsorship of the RunTex Foundation. As weve written , the foundation plans to raise at least $500,000 three months prior to the event, which would then be appropriated to city departments. The total cost of the event is tabulated at $716,078, including city fee waivers. RunTex founder Paul Carrozza tells KUT News the foundations goal is to keep it free to the public, keep it free to the taxpayer, and bring it back to the grandeur of 2007, 2008 when it was at its peak. Asked how the RunTex Foundation saw itself successfully sponsoring the event following an abandoned attempt by another company last year, Carrozza predicted building collaborations with sponsors the business community and corporate community of Austin, along with volunteerism and nonprofits. I feel like I can reach out with the support of the city and the mayor, and talk to the right people in the corporations give them a value that would be worth investing in.

Graphic by KUT News

More taxicabs may be hitting Austins 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, its technically prohibited by city ordinance, which states a company may not possess more than 60 percent of the citys permits.

Photo by KUT News

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, thats because council keeps slogging through several controversial topics: Austin Energys embattled rate increases, contentious cab issues and the disposable bag ban. Luckily, debate over extending Capital Metros rail service will keep things fresh. Electric Rate Redux : A public hearing on Austin Energys recently tweaked proposals raising electricity rates is scheduled for 6 p.m. The changes havent 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 meetings 10 a.m. start will announce a proposed alternative to Austin Energys recommended rate increase.

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The news this morning out of Austin City Council is no news: A presentation from Austin Energy on its revised rate proposals wont happen until approximately 3 p.m. The council breezed through its agenda this morning, but Mayor Lee Leffingwell said it was unlikely the presentation would be completed in time for councils noon break. In other news: A $1 surcharge per taxi passenger passed unanimously. The charge would only appear during peak hours of 9 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. The charge was decreased from an earlier amount of $2.50 , which would have stayed the same regardless of the number of passengers; action on a semi-related measure revisiting the number of passengers per cab was postponed.