Arrested for breaking an admitted non-existent law

Here is my story about my arrest Friday night and the reasons for it. I met Chris Nielsen, owner of Electric Cab of Austin, during my recent campaign.

He told me about his 3 year long battle with the City of Austin in which he had an idea to start a green energy business giving people rides on a “tips only” basis. He did not charge for his services, and really the business is a mobile marketing company that generates revenue from advertising on the side of his low speed electric vehicles.

He explained how the Austin City Council has had this issue in front of them multiple times yet never seems to vote on the issue and always continue to “study” it, thus delaying it and kicking it down the road 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 like nothing is wrong. I have been told by multiple City Council Members that nothing is “preventing” this business from operating.

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 is violating a law that does not exist…. His drivers have received around 200 tickets and arrests now.

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. Why? The Taxi lobby is concerned about competition, and they donated $36,700 between all of the sitting Council Members including the Mayor.

This gives the impression that we have private businesses buying harassment of their competition. I’m not making any direct accusations against anyone here, but I will say it does not look pretty at all.

So, I drove a cart for him. 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 officers stopped me and wrote me a ticket for “Operating without a permit” and “no chauffeurs 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. It was late Friday evening, and I got to spend the night with a lot of the drunks, one of them throwing up all over the floor right next to me. It was quite the experience. I stayed in jail until the morning when I was released. Every single officer I interacted with in jail made comments about what a waste of time my arrest was. NONE of them supported my charges nor the fact that I was there. I could hear them talking about it the entire night, the officer taking my mugshot and fingerprints showed my file to every other officer working in the jail talking about how incredibly stupid my arrest was and made multiple comments about the priorities of our police chief. Granted they work for a different department (they were county officers instead of city police) so they had no problem trashing the City Police.

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 it’s employees. Another driver was arrested just last week, a 19 year old girl, for the same exact charge as mine. She broke no law.

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 things 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 government shutting down businesses applies to all 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 give back to this community that we love so much.

Thank you,

Kris Bailey

http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/council/groupemail.htm

62 thoughts on “Arrested for breaking an admitted non-existent law

  1. Has he considered seeking an injunction against the police pursuant to the Civil Rights laws? Moreover, you should consult a civil rights attorney or even the Institute for Justice, the Pacific Legal Fund, or the ACLU.

  2. I just sent the Mayor and City Council a strongly worded message. I don’t even live in Texas, but this really pisses me off. It’s so unamerican, unconstituional, unfair, and a bunch of other “un”s I can’t think of at the moment. This kind of abuse of power is part of what’s wrong with this country right now. What ever happened to liberty? Sad.

  3. This is a great, very eco-friendly business concept that is being assaulted by local government in a manner that isn’t even “legal.”

    We need more businesses like this, and we don’t need local governments acting like this.

  4. I’m sorry you’re going through this, in a city that’s supposed to be progressive and “green.” I hope this helps:

    Message sent to Austin Mayor/Council

    “I’d like to request that you cite the laws that are being broken by the subject business in the city of Austin. Barring your ability to do so, I’d immediately request that the city council inform Austin police that they are to cease harassment of any volunteers of said business. If your goal is to encourage business, especially those promoting �green� services and sustainability, then the city should be doing MORE to help businesses like Mr. Bailey’s succeed.

    I’d planned on making Austin my home next year, and bring my business tax dollars to the local economy. Your decisions, however, are giving rise to severe 2nd thoughts to those plans.

    Please help the city of Austin move toward promoting efforts to help us end our dependence on non-renewable energy sources.

    I thank you for your time and attention, and I trust that you’ll do what’s right for the city of Austin and your constituents.”

    1. There’s a reason the rest of Texas rejects Austin. They attempt to show how progressive they are when they are in many ways the most backwards. All in all, the city is in gross violation of the Texas spirit of “instrusive government should be an executionable offense”. It’s like a mini California halfway between Dallas and San Antonio.

  5. Uh, I don’t entirely agree. The law seems pretty clear.

    http://www.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Texas/austin/thecodeofthecityofaustintexas?f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:austin_tx$anc=

    § 13-2-2  APPLICABILITY OF CHAPTER.
         This chapter applies to a ground transportation service operating in the city.
    Source:  1992 Code Section 8-13-2; Ord. 031106-13; Ord. 031211-11.
    § 13-2-3  OPERATING AUTHORITY OR TAXICAB FRANCHISE REQUIRED.
         (A)     Except as provided by Subsections (B) and (C), a person may not provide or operate a ground transportation service that picks up passengers within the city or represent the person’s business to the public as a ground transportation service unless that person obtains an authority to operate the ground transportation service under Section 13-2-161 (Operating Authority Application Required) or a taxicab franchise to operate a taxicab service under Section 13-2-303 (Franchise Application Required).

    ALSO:

    § 13-2-31 VEHICLE TO DISPLAY PERMIT.

    A person may not drive or allow another to drive a vehicle as a ground transportation service vehicle unless the vehicle displays an operating authority permit or franchise permit issued by the City.

    Also, you are not competing just against Taxis, but Pedicabs and Rickshaws as well. Both of those types of businesses are licensed as chauffeurs and operate with permits. I agree that City Council has been dragging ass about this issue, and yes the Taxi lobby has pretty strong influence on the council. The Police wouldn’t be enforcing the law without the push from the council. And yeah, you probably should have the right to pick up passengers as a licensed operator. But there is a law that says you must operate with a permit and license. So it seems that the Chris is willingly operating against the law. The fault lies with council not settling this issue, but there is a law on the books that the EVs are violating.

    Granted, section 13-2-7(B) offers a conditional approach to operating a service downtown.

    Bookmark§ 13-2-7 TRANSPORTING PASSENGERS BY DELIVERY VEHICLES PROHIBITED.

    (A) Except as provided in Subsection (B), a person in the business of parcel or package deliveries in the city may not transport or offer to transport a passenger, whether for hire or without charge, or permit any person to ride as a passenger in a delivery vehicle.

    (B) A person may provide a free transport service if the service is an incidental part of the person’s principal business and there is no charge for the service.

    And that would fit into the narrative that your business is a marketing platform rather than a transportation business. But it does not play that way out on the streets. You become direct competition to the other two forms of downtown transport and your company is the only one that isn’t licensed. So that is not fair from the perspective of those other businesses.

    I agree, nobody should be arrested for what yall are doing. But until yall operate with permits and licenses, I don’t see how there can be any claim to innocence on this issue.

    1. They are unable to get a permit, because of a technicality. Yet, they are charged for not having a permit. This is why it’s complete bullshit.

    2. Except, you missed a crucial part, the definition of “ground transportation service” in § 13-2-1 DEFINITIONS:

      (10) GROUND TRANSPORTATION SERVICE means the service of providing chauffeured vehicles for hire for the transportation of passengers within the city.

      The “for hire” part seems to be the issue.

      1. EXACTLY!! Brent is right… This guy is NOT charging money for his service. If I pick up a friend and drop this friend across town and my friend voluntarily gives me $5 gas money, can they arrest me? It’s not a business, it’s a free service.

      2. (A) Except as provided in Subsection (B), a person in the business of parcel or package deliveries in the city may not transport or offer to transport a passenger, whether for hire or without charge, or permit any person to ride as a passenger in a delivery vehicle.

        particularly “Whether for hire or without charge”

        1. From what I see this applies to persons in the business of parcel or package delivers. (I.E. UPS driver) Meaning a UPS driver couldn’t transport someone as a passenger. So I wouldn’t think this applies to this situation. He isn’t in the business of package or parcel deliveries.

        1. They still take half as much energy as normal cars, and that energy still ultimately comes from non-green sources. Sticking it in a green car at the very end doesn’t make it “no emissions”. It just means “no additional emissions”.

  6. The city has told the owner of this business that they do not fall under this law and that is why they cannot get a permit to operate. The city has told them they don’t fall under this law so the business is stuck in limbo where the police are using the law stated above to ticket and arrest people, but the business can’t get a permit to operate because of the city telling them they don’t fall under the law. The only thing they can really do is shut down and go away because they can’t get “legal” since the law doesn’t pertain to them, but will continue to be harassed by the police because they aren’t “legal.”

    What it will likely ultimately take is a judicial ruling on this matter to settle it.

  7. @Stephen, Even if the laws are ridiculous, Chris has a point. It IS illegal under current laws. Whether fair or not, a law WAS broken.

    1. @Mike: What law? The reason the business lacks a permit is because when they applied for one, the city’s licensing department determined that the business model was one that the law simply did not apply to. So no permit was issued because none was needed.

      But the police claim that a permit is needed, even though the licensing department says one isn’t. The police write citations and make arrests and impound vehicles (with accompanying fees to get the vehicles released) for activity that isn’t illegal.

      The basis of all laws in the U.S. is that anything not explicitly forbidden or regulated is legal. Since the city government determined that operating a free service on tips only doesn’t need a license, then no license is needed to do so.

  8. Seriously, the survey question … To a significant extent the only reason local governments exist **at all** is to further the commercial interests of anybody willing to pony up.

  9. Mike, I don’t think you read Stephen’s whole post or you’d’ve seen that a second ordinance does make the service legal.

  10. Would they fall under the existing law if they started actually charging a dollar per ride? I mean is the reason they don’t fall under the existing law simply because it is tips only, or is there something else about the business that puts them outside the existing law?

    1. Pretty much it’s the free ride thing. The law that requires a permit only applies to rides for hire. If giving someone a ride for free required a permit, then you’d need a taxi permit to give a friend a lift when his car breaks down, drive your kids to school, or for that matter, for a cop to transport a prisoner in the back of a patrol car.

      Giving a free ride, and saying tips are welcome but never required is legally no different than giving a friend a lift, and them handing you a few bucks for gas money.

  11. “This gives the impression that we have private businesses buying harassment of their competition.”

    That’s no mere impression, it’s a plainly obvious fact. The purpose of business regulation has always been to exclude competition.

    1. In theory, yes. No law was broken.

      In practice, an awful lot of judges are biased in favor of the organization that pays their salaries.

  12. Perhaps you should talk to a lawyer about this. If you’re being arrested without violating any law, it seems that your rights are being violated. The intervention of the courts could be just what is needed to move this issue beyond the deadlock that seems to exist and force the city to either 1) regulate the business 2) make the business illegal or 3) stop the police from interfering with lawful activity.

  13. Actual e-mail sent to the Council…
    Your treatment of Chris Nielsen, owner of Electric Cab of Austin if awful.
    Perhaps you think Americans are too stupid to govern themselves, but you will see someday that your abuse of citizens will come at a price. We have a Constitution in these United States,you might try reading it. So, Please stop stomping on the very people that entrust you to help. (filling YOUR pockets with money isn’t help)

  14. Good God.

    If you want any better proof get a cab at Dulles Airport. There is a periodic announcement “advising” customers not to use any car service besides Dulles Flyer. Because they have a deal with MWAA the governing agency for Dulles the independent guys can’t make a buck. They makes these guys out to be scum when they’re actually just competitors.

    1. I ALWAYS take illegal cabs (usually guys who have just dropped somebody off) when I come in to Dulles. Washington Flyer bought a monopoly from the airport authority, and they screw the drivers because of it.

      If I prayed, I would ask God to send the WF owner straight to hell, and the bastards who sold him the monopoly right there with him. I don’t, so I just root for his demise, like I root for the continued fail of the Dan Snyder Redskins.

  15. @ Chris A. My name is Kris Bailey, I’m the guy that got arrested. I figured I would clarify your quoting the laws. First, I actually sort of agree with you that we should fall under that code. We aren’t a taxi service though, you have to be able to operate city-wide, have a 24 hour dispatch, meters, and all sorts of nonsense that is not actually possible. Our carts don’t have the range to transport people across town, and we DO NOT actually wish to charge. This is a mobile marketing business, the design of the business is actually to make money off of advertising on our carts, so to get technical, we in no way apply to section 13-2 of the city code for taxis, would be physically unable to, and don’t want to actually compete with taxis.

    So that leaves section 13-2-161 which is basically for things like pedicabs. We went to the city and applied for a permit under that section 3 years ago. The City of Austin advised us that low speed electric vehicles are not regulated under that section, and do not fall under it. We actually tried to get regulated there, it was the city that told us we don’t fit there and that no laws apply to the type of business we are running. Then we went to council…. then the problems started. The law that doesn’t exist, is on the advice and information directly from the City of Austin and the City Council. The cops unfortunately feel differently and that we should be permitted under that section, hence the arrests and tickets for not having a permit. Imagine our frustration…. We go to the city, they say “You don’t need a permit, none exists,” then we go out and the police arrest us and say “You need a permit, you are breaking the law.” the right hand has no idea what the left is doing, and we are out tens of thousands of dollars because of the bureaucratic nightmare. 😦

  16. After reading this I can’t help but think about the Gumball officials who keep repeating, “It’s not a race” over and over again….while everyone in it races.
    The company here is called “Electric Cab.” Gee, that isn’t going to create any confusion. Electric Cab, but we aren’t a taxi-cab business….But we promote giving people rides…

    And as for the cry that the government is shutting down a small business and Electric Cab is going to be forced out of business because of all the fines and arrests and impounds. Well stop picking people up or stop taking tips. Problem solved. Not so you say?
    The claim being made here is that the business makes it’s money from advertising. So, advertise. If that doesn’t bring enough in to keep the company going then it was a flawed idea. It’s success or fail should not depend on a grey area in the law. This though does beg the question, how green is it actually to drive around in electric vehicles just for the sake of advertising? Honestly a guy on a corner spinning a sign is far more green.

    Really that is kind of farce green advertising. But then just a sign can’t give people rides, which the company does but isn’t a cab service despite the name and advertising giving rides.

    Since we are walking around in this grey legal loophole of ordinance confusion though. Why not just mount a “tip jar” behind the seat. But title “Disposable Income Waste Only.” That way the driver won’t even know if they are being paid, won’t be taking any money directly and can plead ignorance. But lets not fool ourselves, while this would be technically ok, it is still questionably grey.

    Sucks to be arrested though. Sorry about that.

  17. My roommate just replied, and told me about this and I’m a person of fewer words.
    Solution:
    1. Stop accepting tips.
    2. Give truly free rides.
    3.Pay the drivers so they don’t need to rely on tips.
    Problem Solved.

  18. Well I pressed this. I’m all the way over in India so I don’t know what else I can do other than get the word of mouth going. Good Luck getting these guys into line.

  19. What you need is press. That’s what the press is for. Contact Ben Wear at the Statesman & Nick Barbaro at the Chronicle. Contact the Texas Observer, Mother Jones, & the Texas Tribune. Good luck.

    1. Yup – I’d go along with KVS on this one. You need media and public attention. Let some light in to disinfect this mess.

  20. I’m not ignorant, nor unthinking a person. Yet I am never ” ceased to be amazed”, as to how government entities continue to propagate themselves. My complaint is the simple fact of not regulating a business, but taxing thru permits. Period. Where in the constitution is it a justifiable leap to making me/or anyone else have to purchase a permit to cut hair, blacksmith or giving a ride on tips. Your purchase my product, you get what you pay for. Caveat Emptor

  21. Can you not get a lawyer to argue this in court? I know in Canada if you get a ticket you can choose to fight it in court.

  22. Just wanted to say that I contacted the national ACLU and your local ACLU. Hopefully that helps, although you may want to contact them yourself as well.

  23. Why does the owner continue to pay the tickets? This seems like the kind of thing you could easily bring to a judge by refusing to pay the ticket, getting summoned to court and pleading your case before a judge. One way or another the judge would have to render a decision on the legality of the service as he/she saw it and that should stand as precedent for future arrests and tickets.

  24. If you are not a cab company and are in fact primarily a marketing company then why is the name of your company “Electric Cab” and this is what is displayed on your vehicles, not “Electric Marketing” which is your stated buisness model. If you are truly trying to work within the system then you are making it as difficult as possible for yourself.

    Additionally I did not see any mention of the way your drivers are paid. If they work for tips then rides are the primary buisness,not advertising.

    What I see is someone trying to take advantage of a loophole and the concept of “green” to make money, then getting upset when it does not work. This why many people do not take “green” concept ideas seriously.

  25. Do get Alex Jones involved in this if possible. It is really discouraging that innovation is very much discouraged because it challenges the patriarch system in place. We want to encourage things that create real wealth in terms of not being gouged or creating dependencies on destructive resources. I am told and can foresee that in the US, administrative activities and corporate taxes will only get more complex through 2014.

  26. FOR EVERYONE: Why don’t we BAN campaign donations, campaigns, campaign ads and all forms of political propaganda? Lets just have political candidates have radio and tv debates and publish their resumes on newspapers and on the internet.

    CIAO.

  27. Are these cops insane?! I have to wonder if the city council members are in direct criminal collusion with the taxi companies that bribe them to “look the other way” while their armed fascists commit crimes against citizens like this. Amazing.

    Welcome to what republicanism has done to our nation. Lovely, isn’t it? It is happening here.

  28. I wonder if the fascists also arrest designated drivers who take drunk people home from bars and then get reimbursed in part for their gasoline. Seems like the fascists should also arrest designated drivers if they’re going to be consistent committing racketeering crimes against others who take drunks off the street for free.

  29. Honestly, I think everyone who has ever used this company needs to call Austin PD for a ride home or any one in general. You would think with all of the deaths dealing with alcohol and driving that Austin would be thankful for a company doing this.

    To Electric Cab Company, next time you are followed pull over get out of the vehicle and ask if you have done something wrong before you get to your destination. Also look into Austin stalking laws because them following yall has to be illegal!

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