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.