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.
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.