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April 17th, 2014:

Uber goes rogue

That sound you hear is me shaking my head.

At least one ride-sharing company has decided to openly defy city law that bans its unlicensed drivers from charging for rides.

While a few free-ride promotions remain ongoing, Uber spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian confirmed Tuesday that the service, which connects interested riders with willing drivers via smartphone apps, is indeed charging for rides and will “stand by” any drivers who receive city citations.

“The support of city users and drivers has been absolutely tremendous.” Hourdajian said. “There have been tens of thousands of trips in Houston in the time we’ve been here, and we’re thrilled by that reception.”

She said the growing use of the service since its launch in February is a sign Houstonians think City Council should “have a sense of urgency” in approving regulatory revisions that would allow legal operation for Uber, Lyft and similar mobile-centric operators.

A draft of possible changes will be reviewed early next week by a joint committee on transportation and public safety. How quickly that proposal moves to the full City Council for a vote depends on suggested changes from concerned council members and taxi industry officials.

Jim Black, executive vice president of governmental relations for Lyft, said he was unaware of plans for the service to mimic Uber and begin regular, for-fee operations before council’s decision. He did note that the Houston Lyft app still offers riders the option to donate to their drivers.

In other cities, the company has swapped out that feature for fees once legal wrangling has been resolved.

See here, here, and here for the background. I mean, seriously, Uber. You’re going to get what you want soon enough. The Chronicle editorial board continues to be on your side. Could you just chill a little? I’m going to let William Shatner speak for me here:

I’m sure I speak for many people when I say I’ll be glad when this matter has been dealt with.

On a related matter, the Express News has a brief update on the lawsuit filed against Uber and Lyft by the cabbies:

The 23 plaintiffs that filed the lawsuit April 8 — among them, two taxi companies from San Antonio including the city’s largest, Yellow Cab San Antonio — have asked a federal judge to rule the companies are violating vehicle-for-hire ordinances in San Antonio and Houston. They are also seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction to prevent Lyft and Uber from operating.

But an injunction has not yet been issued. A hearing on the matter could be scheduled soon, said Michael A. Harris, one of two Houston-based attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

A pre-trial conference has been scheduled for July 18 in U.S. District Court in Houston.

I’ll be glad when this is over, too. Texpatriate has more.

Castro v Patrick

Who do you think won?

Mayor Julian Castro

Democratic Mayor Julián Castro and GOP lieutenant governor candidate Dan Pat- rick of Houston clashed over immigration policy on Tuesday in a rowdy debate that left both politicians claiming victory.

The politicians stood by the sharply different stances that brought them to their much ballyhooed face-off, at times in conciliatory tones and occasionally with biting rhetoric.

Repeating banter that initially erupted on social media, Castro pleaded for a comprehensive overhaul of immigration law and portrayed Patrick as too harsh on immigrants, while Patrick painted Castro’s approach as too liberal and unfair to citizens.

Taped before guests at Univision studios and streamed live on the Web, the hourlong showdown gave Castro an opportunity to dispute Patrick’s campaign claims about the extent of unauthorized immigration and the lack of border security, while Patrick assailed Castro and other Democrats for embracing immigrant law-breakers seeking citizenship.

The encounter was the first meeting for the two officials, whose conversation was guided by Texas Tribune Editor in Chief Evan Smith, and it started out on a lively note with Castro as the aggressor, calling Patrick “part of the problem” in the political stalemate over immigration reform.

“On Twitter, in front of the Alamo, in your campaign, you’ve been huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf and now you’re dancing around like Little Red Riding Hood. That is not leadership,” Castro said.

“Nobody is disagreeing with you, senator, when you talk about the need to clamp down on coyotes (smugglers), on people who are crossing here illegally,” Castro said.

One thing I think we can all agree on is that the clear loser of this debate was David Dewhurst. Not that anybody cares about David Dewhurst. Beyond that, I would suggest that one way to evaluate a contest like this is to measure how fired up each side’s supporters are afterward. I’ll let someone else check on Patrick’s fans, but it’s clear that Team Castro was pretty happy with how it went.

Another way to assess the outcome is the “If you’re lying, you’re losing” metric:

The exchange grew heated when Castro questioned Patrick’s claims, based on a state report, about the extent of crime tied to immigrants.

“The Express-News and Houston Chronicle looked into that and they said that’s bogus,” Castro said. “You have a way with statistics and trying to exaggerate them,” Castro said.

Patrick denied that and repeatedly urged Castro to “read the report” he had cited.

Yes, Patrick is lying about immigration and crime. He also has a history of lying about immigration and disease:

In 2006, Patrick claimed that undocumented immigrants were responsible for spreading diseases largely banished from developed countries.

“They are bringing Third World diseases with them,” Patrick said, according to The Texas Observer, listing “tuberculosis, malaria, polio and leprosy.”

State health officials say there’s little basis for those claims.

Take polio for instance. The Department of State Health Services couldn’t provide any information about cases because the disease has been “eradicated in the Western hemisphere,” said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the DSHS.

All of Texas’ malaria cases are imported, he said, and not by immigrants. Instead, those infected typically were traveling to or from a part of the world, such as Africa, where the disease is rampant.

While there is a link between immigration and leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease, Van Deusen said, there is an equally strong link between contracting it and contact with armadillos or coming from an old European family that has a genetic quirk making them susceptible to the disease.

Most humans, he pointed out, are genetically immune from getting Hansen’s, which is not easily spread.

To paraphrase Daniel Davies once again, good debaters do not need to tell lots of lies to win their debates. The Trib, Erica Greider, and the Observer have more.

HISD unveils new mascots

Here they are.

The cafeteria at Hamilton Middle School showcases a painting of a Native American in a feathered headdress. Students wear collared shirts with a similar symbol. They were, until Tuesday, the Hamilton Indians.

Now, with a new school district policy banning mascots deemed culturally offensive, the Houston Heights campus has adopted the Huskies as their symbol, as have the Westbury High School Rebels. The Lamar High Redskins become the Texans, and the Welch Middle School Warriors are now the Wolf Pack.

The mascot changes – including painting over old logos, buying new uniforms and replacing marquees – could cost the district an estimated $250,000, officials said.

Superintendent Terry Grier, who won school board approval for the stricter mascot policy in December, said the expense was worth it.

“For us here at HISD, while this day marks the end of an era and sends a message about nurturing our cultural diversity, we do understand the importance of tradition and history,” Grier said while unveiling the new mascots in the Hamilton school cafeteria.

Grier said he was troubled by the Lamar Redskins name shortly after arriving in Houston in 2009, but he didn’t push for a change until last year when state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Native American students and parents upped the pressure.

[…]

An HISD handout about the mascot changes said new uniforms for football and volleyball in the fall would cost about $50,000, while the four schools expected to spend more than $38,000 to replace logos on their campuses. Uniforms for all other sports could drive the total cost up to about $250,000 according to district spokeswoman Sheleah Reed.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. I figure uniforms have to be replaced periodically anyway so the cost doesn’t bother me. Besides, this was simply The Right Thing To Do. I’m glad HISD got it done. Hair Balls has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 14

The Texas Progressive Alliance honors the legacy of LBJ and the continuing struggle for civil rights as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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