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Ibarra brothers

Downtown shuttle service to return

Do you miss the free trolleys that used to run downtown? A new version of that service is set to debut in the spring.

The Houston Downtown Management District, funded through tax assessments on downtown properties, plans to launch a free bus service called Greenlink to ferry employees and residents along a 2.5 mile route starting in spring.

[…]

Metro’s downtown trolley service stopped rolling in 2005, after a 50-cent fare introduced in 2004 caused ridership to plummet. At its peak, Metro’s service had 28 vintage trolley buses, five routes and more than 10,000 daily riders.

In the meantime, the city passed an ordinance requiring cabs to charge a flat $6 within downtown, and pedicab and jitney companies such as Rev Eco-Shuttle have sprouted to meet the demand. “It could impact us but I think it’s good to always have options,” said Erik Ibarra, head of Rev Eco-Shuttle, adding that some if his riders have told him they miss the free trolley.

The district’s route is designed to connect convention-goers and office workers in southwest downtown to more retailers and restaurants such as Macy’s, Houston Pavilions and The Shops at Houston Center, [Bob Eury, executive director of Downtown District] said. “Depending on where you are, it’s a pretty big hike from southwest downtown to a store or restaurant.”

You can see a map of the new service’s route here; for comparison purposes, here’s a map of the downtown tunnel system, which I daresay can get you most of the places the shuttle can. I worked downtown for awhile during the run of the original trolley service. It was cool, but I was generally too impatient to wait for it – unless I saw it coming as I walked by the stop, I just kept walking to wherever it was I was going. I expect that I’m the exception and not the rule, so I figure this service will be popular. As Erik Ibarra said, it’s good to have options.

It’s a go for REV Eco Shuttle

This happened last week, but I didn’t get to posting about it at that time.

A vote by city council [October 27] caps the longstrange regulatory journey of Erik Ibarra’s Rev Eco-Shuttle service. Rulespassed by the council in August restricted Jitneylicenses to vehicles with 9 or more seats, effectively barring Ibarra from licensing any more of his Downtown, Midtown, and Washington Ave electric vehicles. Today’s vote allows the licensing of pedicabs and low-speed vehicles,including any new Rev 6-seaters. [Previously on Swamplot]

I’ve referred to this company as REV Houston in the past; I guess they changed their name somewhere along the line and I just missed it. Anyway, I’m glad to hear this and I wish them the best with their expansion plans. Hair Balls has more.

New jitney rules coming

City Council is preparing to make some changes to its ordinances regarding jitneys.

The goal of the new rules, some of which also will be established by mid-September in a “green” ordinance that will govern the use of zero-emissions vehicles, is to “allow the market to function appropriately,” said Chris Newport, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Administration and Regulatory Affairs.

Newport said the previous rules are outdated and inhibit new ideas.

“The changes create a flexible framework and set the foundation for the industry to grow without standing in the way of technology and investment,” he said.

Erik Ibarra, owner of Rev Eco-Shuttle, said that is exactly what the new ordinance will do. The changes to the ordinance may “regulate us out of business,” he said.

I’ve written about RevHouston before. Ibarra’s concern appears to be because his service is currently neither fish nor fowl. Jitneys are being defined as having between nine and 15 passengers and operating on a fixed route. If that sounds like the Washington Wave to you, go to the head of the class. RevHouston is using a jitney license that Ibarra got to keep from getting tickets for not complying with taxi ordinances, but his service is for six and fewer at a time, and really is more like a taxi since it’s not on a fixed route. The city says it has a plan for that:

Although Ibarra’s two six-seat vehicles would be allowed to continue operating under the law under an exception, he said the new ordinance may not allow him to grow or to purchase more vehicles.

City officials say Ibarra’s company will be able to operate as a pedi-cab under the “green” ordinance, which the council is expected to consider in mid-September.

[…]

Ibarra said he is concerned that his company’s growth potential will be limited before the new regulations are in place.

He agrees that many of the changes proposed in the ordinance will be good for the industry but questioned why his company will be left in limbo.

“Why not put the green ordinance first?” he asked, noting that he would be in “regulatory purgatory” for six weeks. “It just seems backwards to say, we’re going to regulate you out of the market first, but don’t worry, we’re going to set up a green ordinance for you. … If this passes, they’re not going to prevent other companies from growing, just my company.”

I’m sure there’s a reason Council is doing the jitney update before the green ordinance, but regardless of that it does potentially leave Ibarra in the lurch. What happens if the green ordinance doesn’t get passed, for example? It probably won’t matter in the end, but I can’t blame the guy for fretting about it. As for his concern about his company’s growth potential, I must say that classifying RevHouston as a form of pedicab makes sense to me. As long as the green ordinance wouldn’t forbid him from operating, say, a ten-passenger eco-shuttle, I don’t see the problem. Am I missing something?

County pays off last bill related to Ibarra brothers lawsuit

Merry Christmas.

Harris County Commissioners Court agreed [Tuesday] to pay the last of what has amounted to more than $4 million in bills related to a lawsuit brought by two men who said they were wrongfully arrested after one of them videotaped sheriff’s deputies during a drug raid.

The commissioners approved a settlement that calls for the county to pay a total of $163,100.57 in attorneys’ costs to two law firms.

Terry O’Rourke, first assistant county attorney, who briefed commissioners on the settlement in closed session, told them before their 5-0 vote in open session that it closes the books on the 2002 incident.

I can’t summarize this in one or two links, so just go here and browse away. May we never do anything like this again.

REV Houston revisited

REV Houston is back in the news.

The drivers of Rev Houston’s green-and-white shuttles zip through downtown picking up and dropping off passengers for tips. Here’s a tip from city officials: Follow the rules.

To Rev Houston owner Erik Ibarra, his three-vehicle electric fleet — think stretch golf carts — is a carbon-free way to move people around downtown. To city officials, however, Rev Houston is an outlaw company, skirting ordinances to make a buck.

City officers have ticketed Rev Houston drivers at least 15 times this year, and plenty more last year. The citations, which average $150 to $200, are for offenses such as “no taxicab permit” and “no taxicab driver’s license.”

“One of the offenses is ‘no fire extinguisher,’ ” Ibarra said. “Our vehicles don’t have a single drop of combustible liquid, but the city feels we need to have a fire extinguisher. ‘No taxi meter’ is another one. We don’t charge a fare, so why should we have a taxi meter?”

Tina Paez, the city’s deputy director of administration and regulatory affairs, said Ibarra’s vehicles have been cited as taxis because they take passengers.

“If they charge a fare or accept a gratuity, they are a vehicle for hire,” she said. “Even though they don’t technically charge, they come under the ordinance.”

I blogged about them in September, and the issues haven’t changed much since then. I think it’s clear these guys are a breed apart from taxicabs, and I think the city needs to consider addressing them as such. Some regulation is certainly required – ensuring they have adequate insurance, making sure the drivers receive safety training and certification, that sort of thing – but given that their domain is limited to downtown and parts of Midtown, it doesn’t make sense to regulate them like cabs. If they go beyond that area, then they can and should be re-evaluated – a well-written new ordinance can handle that. In the meantime, there has to be a better approach than this.