Downtown Arrest Sparks City Council Criticism (OPINION)
Before dawn Monday morning, Chris Nielsen, owner of Electric Cab of Austin, was waiting in front of the jail house. He was trying to figure out why a mob of police officers felt the need to arrest his newest driver, a nineteen year-old girl.
Nielsen has been working with the city to obtain a permit for his low speed electric vehicles to operate on a vehicle-for-hire basis similar to pedicabs where his drivers accept tips for service. This agenda item was pulled again in April even after receiving the green light with a recommendation by the Urban Transportation Commission the month before. Vice President for the Austin Center for Peace and Justice, and Austin Post contributer, Debbie Russell responded to the arrest stating, "Putting green-minded small businesses out of commission should definitely be a public saftey priority in our 'green-minded, small business-friendly' city."
A friend of Nielsen's was nearby and recorded the arrest, which took place at the intersection of 6th and Trinity Streets, on his cell phone camera. The driver was arrested at 1:30 am for accepting a tip, or charging a fare. They said they gave the driver a verbal warning about accepting money and a ticket before proceeding to the arrest as a last resort. According to Nielsen, the driver has been working less than a week for him and has never received a ticket to date for accepting a fare. Yes, it took a handful of about four officers on 6th street to arrest a teenage girl for city permiting issues.
These police harassment's are a reason why Nielsen has difficulty finding driver’s to operate his electric low speed cabs. “They probably scared the hell out of her,” Nielsen said. His drivers have received hundreds of tickets in the last three years costing the company losses in damages and time. “I’m so tired of this,” Nielsen said as he waited for his driver to be released.
It seems rather extreme to stick a harmless nineteen year-old girl in a cold jail cell with the drunks, prostitutes crackheads to make a point about the violation of a permit law that doesn’t even exist. This should be a wake up call the City Council who has sat on this for three long years refusing to put this item on the agenda and vote to Nielsen his permit. This is a green business that Austin should embrace. Which council member will finally do the right thing?
Editor's note: Contributing blogger Jenn Studebaker does part-time work for Electric Cab of Austin.