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Reminder: Uber and Lyft aren’t legal yet in Houston

Drive for ’em at your own risk for the next month or so.


New entrants into Houston’s paid-ride market can’t be licensed to operate for another month, but the transition is proving problematic as the companies and drivers rack up citations and the city impounds vehicles.

Since Aug. 6, when the City Council approved changes to the city’s for-hire transportation rules, Uber and Lyft have received 1,046 citations – more than the 861 issued in the six months between the companies’ February launch and the council vote. The companies connect riders and drivers via smartphone apps.

“We are still enforcing all aspects of our ordinance daily,” said Tina Paez, director of the city’s regulatory affairs department. “We started impounding last Thursday.”

Inspectors pose as passengers and issue citations once the fare is charged.

As of Friday, four vehicles – one rogue cab, two vehicles affiliated with Uber and one with Lyft – have been seized by police. The authority to impound violators’ vehicles came with the rule changes in August, in part because many council members felt the city lacked leverage to keep Uber and Lyft in check.



As taxi and limo companies urged the city to crack down on the companies, the new entrants pushed for regulatory changes the city already was considering. Ultimately, many of the changes sought by Uber and Lyft were adopted by the City Council, along with a procedure for permitting and regulating the companies and their drivers, who operate as independent contractors.

Council members provided a 60-day window to get the permitting process settled, meaning the city can start issuing permits on Nov. 4. On Monday, the city and companies can start working on details such as drug screenings, which can take place within 30 days of seeking the permit.

Based on what Uber has told city officials to expect, Paez said, thousands of permits could be issued in the first few weeks.

“We expect it to be greater than 5,000, and that’s just Uber,” Paez said.

See here for the story about Uber and Lyft being approved by Council, and note the bit about waiting 90 days to sign up for a permit. Go through the process, y’all – that’s what it’s there for, and that’s what all the shouting and wrangling was about. I have long said that I expect there to be demand for these services from people that don’t currently use cabs, and I fully expect the overall vehicle-for-hire market to grow, but I don’t know if it will be big enough to handle 5,000 or more new drivers, even if they’re mostly part-timers. Not at first, anyway. I hope someone is planning to do a study on the effect of the entrance of Uber and Lyft on existing cab companies and other services. I’d really like to have a better idea of how this worked out in a year’s time or so. The Highwayman has more.

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