AUSTIN (KXAN) - Earlier this month, KXAN News told you about Austin Energy's plan to install 100 additional electric car charging stations around the city.
It's all in an effort to encourage residents to buy electric cars, but an Austin cab company that utilizes only electric cars is having a problem getting a permit from the city to operate.
"We provide free rides to patrons of the downtown entertainment district," said Chris Nielsen, president of Electric Cab of Austin.
Three years ago, Nielsen decided to start Electric Cab of Austin .
"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.
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.
The problem: They don't have a permit to operate.
In the last three years, the city has given them more than 200 tickets. Nielsen said that despite requesting a permit on multiple occasions the city just won't give them one.
"We keep getting told it will take a couple of months," said Nielsen. "I don't know what Council's definition of 'month' is, but it's been 36 months."
"Taxi regulation is a tough thing, and it's been a problem for a lot longer than three years," said Austin City Councilman Chris Riley.
Riley has been a supporter of the city using green transportation, but his first priority for electric cabs is regulation.
"You just have to figure out how it's going to work: where are the stands going to be, how do you license and regulate these people, how many franchises do we allow. We have to make sure we get those things right," said Riley.
Since April, that issue has been in the hands of the Urban Transportation Commission.
"We're looking at how all of the vehicles for hire work together so there is a level playing field between all of the different people who want to pay for rides," said Gordon Derr, assistant director of the Austin Transportation Department.
The study is supposed to wrap up sometime next month. Then, the commission will make a recommendation to Council.
It will be up to councilmembers to decide if, and when, they want to change the ordinance and ultimately issue a permit for the electric cab company to operate.
Nielsen blames the holdup on the taxi lobby, which he believes doesn't want more competition.
"Our main opposition isn't so much the competition as it is there are just too many permits on the street," said Ann Darbonne, president of the Taxi Drivers Association of Austin.
Darbonne said she believes all vehicles for hire need to be under the same rules.
"They already limit the number of taxis, but at this time there is no limit on any of the other forms of transportation. So the market gets to become too saturated," said Darboone.
But while Nielsen waits on city officials to makes its decision, he plans to keep giving rides and will use the new charging stations when they go online.
Meanwhile, Riley told KXAN News he believes the Electric Cab of Austin will eventually receive a permit.
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