September 05, 2008
REV Houston

I thought this article about the electric car taxi/shuttle service called REV Houston was interesting. A couple of things that struck me:

When [Erik] Ibarra and business partner Justin Jones started REV Houston in April, they anticipated a certain clientele.

"We thought the market was going to be mostly baseball games, taking people from their parking spot to the game or between the Toyota Center and parking," Ibarra said. "But that's probably the smallest segment."

Busiest times are weekdays around lunch and weekend evenings. Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., people don't want to move their cars to go to lunch, said Ibarra. At the same time, they don't want to walk from the 1000 block of Louisiana to, say, Kim Son, nearly 2 miles away at 2001 Jefferson. So they take the shuttle.

Actually, Google maps says it's 1.3 miles from 1000 Louisiana to 2001 Jefferson. If you took the light rail line two stops from Main Street Square to the Downtown Transit Center, you'd knock about a half mile off of that. Which is doable, though it'd take maybe 20 minutes, and you'd have to cross under 59. For such a trip, I can certainly see the appeal of a REV car, even if it cost me $10 in tips total. But I wouldn't want to spend that much extra money often.

I point this out to note that while this is a useful addition to the downtown/Midtown scene, it's not really improving mobility much in that its main competition seems to be walking and taking the light rail line. For a trip like this, it'd take a car off the road, but this is a pretty extreme example. For the most part, you can hoof it almost anywhere downtown if you want to.

REV Houston does not have a special license to drive the electric carts. Already, the city has given the company three tickets with numerous citations, including operating a taxi without a license.

The city defines a taxi cab as any automobile or motor-propelled vehicle used for the transport of passengers for hire, explained Blanton Daniels, manager of the city's transportation division. Pedicabs don't qualify as taxis because they aren't motor-propelled, he said, but REV Houston's electric carts do.

"They're trying to circumvent the regulation by saying they're working for gratuities," said Daniels, adding that he sees no difference between a taxi for hire and a taxi that works for tips. It's still money changing hands.

In addition, city guidelines say taxis should be midsized sedans.

"We want to encourage green businesses, but there are larger considerations, including safety and the other companies that are playing by the rules," said Frank Michel, spokesman for the Houston mayor's office. "Just because you're green doesn't mean you don't have the play by the same rules as everyone else."

The only way the city could allow the electric carts to operate as taxis is by creating a special ordinance that fits their category of business, Daniels said. Until then, the city will continue to ticket the electric carts.

I don't honestly see any reason why such an ordinance couldn't be considered. I agree REV Houston should play by the rules, but I don't think the rules need to exclude them. I say study the safety issue, and if there are no red flags find a way to let them in.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 05, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

For the most part, you can hoof it almost anywhere downtown if you want to.

Sure, but that requires walking around during the hot Houston summer in business clothes. We could take the tunnel system to remain in the air conditioning, but that's often a much longer and very indirect walk during our short 1 hour lunch break. I fully support the light rail, but its only an option for traveling North/South within downtown. If you're going East/West the light rail won't help you. I'd really like to see the return of the downtown trolley system which offered both N-S and E-W options, but that's not going to happen. There must be a need for this transportation or else REV Houston wouldn't be operating. Hopefully the city can work something out.

Posted by: markcov on September 7, 2008 9:09 AM
Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)