“We actually got the idea from the city of Austin, who was operating golf carts in the downtown area. And we decided to take it one step further,” said Nielsen [the owner]
He bought five electric, golf-style cars and hired friends to drive them around the city. Just like the pedicabs, they ask for tips only.
They make their money from selling advertising space on the carts themselves.
This is the sort of spontaneous activity that adds to the deep reservoir of color and charm in what would otherwise be just mid-size city in Texas.
The Austin municipal government, like all governments, tries to remain relevant by jumping on various bandwagons that emerge organically from the wider community. To demonstrate its commitment to a cleaner, greener city, Austin government has installed a hundred or so electric car charging stations in anticipation of emissions free transportation. You would imagine that the city council would be all in favor of an electric cab company, right?
OK, I sort of cheated on that last question, because I forgot to mention that the gas powered cab companies that currently hold all the licenses to give rides to people have paid the mayor and the city council tens of thousands of dollars towards their campaign funds.
For unrelated reasons, I’m sure, the city council has been unable to figure out a way to license Electric Cabs of Austin for . . . wait for it . . . 3 years.
My more advanced readers will already skip to the part where it’s criminal to interpose oneself between someone who wants a ride and someone who is willing to give them a ride. Nielson, the owner of the Electric Cab Company, though, is more of a business person than an agorist martyr; he’d rather just get the permission slip from the nut-jobs at city hall than rot in prison on principle. I’m sympathetic. Apparently, he’s trying to run the cab service despite the legal hangups and has wracked up 200+ tickets and arrests among his driving staff. So maybe he’s part agorist martyr.
A twist on the story, and this is also a staple of government, is that nobody is really clear on exactly what law is being violated. City Council candidate Kris Bailey, who has no chance of ever being elected because he is relatively sane (Green party, pro-marijuana legalization, etc.) tried to find out on what grounds the city police have issued 200+ tickets and made arrests of the electric cab drivers:
There is no law actually prohibiting him from operating this business, it is true but, the enforcement side of the city (the police) have taken this lack of a law regulating the business as operating in violation of a law. He [Nielson, the owner] is violating a law that does not exist. . .
I met with multiple council members and made several phone calls, wrote emails, etc…. I realized that he was right, he is being ignored, and the City of Austin does not wish this business to exist. [Here’s the whole post for people who have Bookface accounts]
Baily, as part of his City Council campaign, I presume, took one of the cabs for a spin one evening:
I gave 2 rides on Friday night. The first ride 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, 3 APD [Austin Police] officers stopped me and wrote me a ticket for “Operating without a permit” and “no chauffers license.” I tried to explain the permit and license do not exist, they did not care. I asked if they had read the ordinances I was supposedly violating, I asked multiple times and the officers refused to quote the law I was breaking. They told me if they saw me operating again, they would arrest me.
I decided that the Austin Police Department does not have the right, nor 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.
Baily is very generous to the folk who caged him that night, but he’s a politician and has to go easy on “law enforcement.” Essentially, the police are hired thugs for the other cab companies in Austin. As Kevin Carson notes in a recent essay,
the true nature of regulation as a naked power grab by incumbent businesses is nowhere more apparent than at the local level. At the lower levels of government, conventional, brick-and-mortar business establishments are heavily involved in using regulatory enforcement to shut down low-cost competition.
Brick and mortar doesn’t apply directly here; I’ve also noted this trend, locally, in a piece on food trucks–another wonderful feature of Austin–and their creeping strangulation at the hands of larger contributors to political campaigns. The point stands though, where the interests driving national political policy have a 24 hour PR outfit in the mainstream media to provide a sheen of legitimacy to wars and regulations, the “naked power” serving concentrations of capital is far easier to see on the local level.
A last note along these lines. The United States is experiencing unemployment around 22%.
Nothing outside of murder or theft should be illegal for a small business owner. The idea that people are being fined, jailed, and otherwise disallowed a living for giving somebody a ride, cooking somebody a meal, cutting hair, painting nails, or selling something some sunday school teacher doesn’t approve of is atrocious; over 20+% unemployment, it’s ridiculous.
OK, two last notes along these lines: this is not some crazy aberration. Protecting established wealth against emerging ingenuity (usually among the poor) is the very and sole purpose of government; read Kevin Carson, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Gabriel Kolko–I know I repeat myself, but seriously, read that shit. It’s time to trust in our fellow humans and allow them to arrange their lives according to their own choosing and not some lunatic who’s trying to micro-manage the lives of hundreds of thousands of strangers.
-  At least in the city itself, the poor bastards by the power plant still get the emissions ↩