Regulation of electric shuttles downtown raises issues

July 12, 2010 4:49:36 PM PDT
A Houston business owner says a proposed new city ordinance could put him out of business. He's fighting the changes. Erik Ibarra is on a mission to keep his electric shuttles on the streets while abiding by city codes.

"The main concern I have is the minimum seating capacity," said Ibarra of REV Eco Shuttle.

Not quite a taxi, these shuttles are called jitneys and they serve a niche.

"I use it to get around downtown. A lot of taxi drivers don't like short runs," said customer Keith Nettles.

However, the jitneys have been unregulated for more than two years.

"They've been operating illegally because they couldn't get inspected, and we realized it was our problem," said Houston City Council Member Sue Lovell. "We've never had that type of vehicle on the streets."

This jitney is regulated differently than a taxi, and that's why the city had to change its ordinance to catch up with technology.

Ibarra is worried that a proposed jitney ordinance would actually hurt business. That's because among the many changes, it would increase the minimum seating from four to nine. His jitneys have six.

"Our current vehicles could be 'grandfathered' in, but it doesn't allow us to grow. We only have two and our business wouldn't grow," Ibarra said.

Lovell says the city is willing to discuss the ordinances and work with the entrepreneurs to help them comply, because any vehicle that carries passengers on city streets should be properly regulated.

"We want him to comply and we want him to be licensed. And we want passengers to feel safe, and we want them to feel like the driver is someone they can trust," said Lovell.

Ibarra has aired his concerns on the Internet. You can see his website at gorevgo.com He is also planning on showing up at the Transportation Committee hearing on Tuesday, which is chaired by Lovell.


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