Note: So… lemme get this straight.. there’s no law against his using his electric car for a FREE shuttle/taxi and no permit required, but they arrest and fine him for not having one anyway? How does that work?
Here is the story about my arrest August 26th, and the reasons for it. I met Chris Nielsen, owner of Electric Cab of Austin, during my recent campaign for Austin City Council.
Chris has been waging a three-year-long battle with the City of Austin over his idea for a green energy business giving pedestrians rides in low-speed electric vehicles–all on a “tips only” basis. He does not charge for these services, as the mobile marketing company generates its revenue from advertising on the sides of the vehicles.
There is no law actually prohibiting him from operating this business, it is true, but, the enforcement side of the city–the police–have determined that the lack of a law regulating a business constitutes operating in violation of a law. Nielsen’s drivers have received around 200 tickets and arrests now, over a law that does not exist.
The Austin City Council has had this issue in front of them multiple times, Chris said, yet never seems to vote on it, always deciding instead to continue to “study” it, thus delaying it a few more months.Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent “studying” his very small business. The Urban Transportation Commission has recommended multiple times that the city issue him a permit to operate. Yet, our Austin City Council refuses to act, and ignores the business repeatedly and pretends that nothing is wrong.
I have been told by multiple City Council members that nothing is “preventing” this business from operating. I met with multiple council members and made several phone calls, wrote e-mails, etc…. and came to realize that Chris Nielsen was right: He is being ignored, and the City of Austin does not wish this business to exist. Why? The taxi lobby is concerned about competition, and donated $36,700 between all of the sitting members of the city council and the Mayor. I’m not making any direct accusations against anyone here, but I will say it gives the impression that we have private businesses buying harassment of their competition.
So, I drove a cart for him. I gave two rides on Friday night. The first was to a couple of women who, when dropped off, handed me a few dollars and thanked me. I did not charge them–they voluntarily handed me the money. At this point, three APD officers stopped me and wrote me a ticket for “Operating without a permit” and “No chauffeur’s license.” I tried to explain that the permit and license did not exist, but they didn’t care. I asked, multiple times, if they had read the ordinances I was accused of violating, and the officers refused to cite the law I was allegedly breaking. They told me if they saw me operating again, they would arrest me. (Read here to see that to be a chauffeured vehicle, requiring permit, as defined by Austin City code, there must be a passenger that is being charged a fee).
I decided that the Austin Police Department does not have the right or the authority to shut down a business on a whim. I picked up another person, and gave him a ride. I dropped him off where he asked to go. The police officers saw him hand me $4 (again, I did not charge him) and immediately came to me and put me in handcuffs. I was arrested without discussion or hesitation, and taken directly to jail. It was quite the experience. I got to spend the night with a lot of the late Friday evening drunks, one of them throwing up all over the floor right next to me. I stayed in jail until I was released the next morning.
Every single officer I interacted with in jail–granted, they work for a different department: county officers have no problem trashing the city police–made comments about what a waste of time my arrest was. I could hear them talking about it the entire night, and none of them supported my charges nor the fact that I was there. The officer taking my mugshot and fingerprints showed my file to everyone else working in the jail, commenting about how incredibly stupid my arrest was, and making multiple remarks about the priorities of our police chief.
My arrest was for a law that did not exist, I have done nothing wrong, and our City Council refuses to even discuss that there could be a problem. In the meantime, a small business is being quietly bankrupted by the city with impound fees and arrests of its employees. Another driver, a 19-year-old girl, was arrested just last week for the same non-existent charge that I was.
I am appealing to anyone who cares about green energy, anyone who cares about small businesses, anyone who cares about police accountability, anyone who cares about wasted resources, anyone who thinks incidents like these should not happen: Please, please, write to the Austin City Council members and tell them what an injustice they are committing. It does not matter where you live, the issue of governments shutting down businesses concerns everyone across this country. Please show your support for us. We are helping keep drunk drivers off the streets, don’t charge for our services, and desperately desire to contribute to this community that we love so much.
You can contact the Mayor and the City Council here.