Austin sting targets service looking to fill ride-hailing void

The city of Austin is using sting operations to crack down on drivers working for unlicensed ride-hailing companies, issue fines and seize cars, authorities told the American-Statesman on Tuesday.

The cars of four drivers for Arcade City, a peer-to-peer service that connects passengers with drivers through its Facebook page, were impounded Friday after the city’s Transportation Department conducted a sting.

Arcade City driver Cheri Hawes said she plans to contest the ticket on her scheduled court date next month and added that many Arcade City drivers will be by her side when she does.

“I was very upset,” said Hawes, whose car was impounded Friday. “I told (the officers) this is my only income. I have two daughters. I can’t afford a citation. I worked for Uber and Lyft before, and I didn’t expect them to leave. And (the officers) just said, ‘It’s the law.’ ”

This sting comes as the Austin City Council prepares to consider Thursday a proposed ordinance to fine ride-hailing companies if they’re not following the city’s new regulations, which were passed in December.

Transportation Department officials said they will continue to enforce city code, which makes driving for an unlicensed ground transportation company a crime. Hawes was cited for operating without valid operating authority and operating without a valid city chauffeur permit.

“We do routine enforcement,” said Cheyenne Krause, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Department. “We did it before this weekend, and we will do it in the future. We won’t discuss specifics of when, where, how or against who, but we routinely do this.”

The Transportation Department recommended that Arcade City drivers turn to licensed ride-hailing companies.

“We highly encourage users to look for services that fully vet their drivers and have mechanisms in place to ensure the safety of both the riders and the drivers,” Krause said.

EYE ON CRIME: Click to receive our Crime and Safety Report by email every Monday

On Friday evening, a man posted a message on Arcade City’s Facebook page, saying he and a friend needed a ride from the University of Texas area into downtown. Hawes was the first to respond to the post, and she said she could pick them up in 10 minutes.

After driving them to their destination, she said the ride would cost $15, and they gave her a $20 bill, Hawes said. Two police cars pulled her over as she started to drive away.

“One guy identified himself as a detective, and the other guy was an officer,” Hawes said. “He asked if I had a chauffeur’s license, and I said no. He asked for the money back, and that’s when he informed me it was an undercover sting.”

Arcade City founder Christopher David disputes that his group is breaking any laws. The drivers on the Facebook group don’t pay Arcade City any money, he said. The Facebook group is currently serving as a way to get Arcade City’s name out there, and the company won’t make money in Austin until the Arcade City app launches in a couple of weeks, David said.

“The city is treating us like we’re a transportation network company, but we’re not,” David said. “We’re structured like Craigslist.”

However, if drivers are charging more than 54 cents a mile, those companies are subject to regulation and must be licensed, city officials said.

“Does (the city of Austin) have nothing better to do with their time and with Austin’s taxpayer dollars than set up a sting operation, punish drivers and impound their cars?” David said. “These are people who are trying to clean up the mess that the city, by and large, is responsible for.”

David said Arcade City put out a call for its drivers netted in the sting to come forward so Arcade City can reimburse them for their towing and citation expenses, but no one has come forward, he said.

Hawes paid $220 to retrieve her car from the impound lot, and she said the citations will cost her up to $400.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Georgetown police: Man has harassed Sun City residents since 2016
Georgetown police: Man has harassed Sun City residents since 2016

Georgetown police are searching for a man who has been harassing Sun City residents for more than two years, even walking into their homes at night and standing at the foot of their beds until they wake up, a police spokesman said. Sun City is a retirement community with several thousand homes in Georgetown. The man has been involved in at least 50...
Former MLB athlete Kelly Wayne Gruber arrested in Austin on DWI charge
Former MLB athlete Kelly Wayne Gruber arrested in Austin on DWI charge

Former Major League Baseball athlete Kelly Wayne Gruber was arrested in Austin on a DWI charge Saturday, records show. Gruber, 56, was a two-time All-Star while playing baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays from 1984 to 1992. As a teenager, Gruber played baseball for Westlake High School.  An Austin officer pulled Gruber over after noticing...
Police: Man attacked, cut person he thought was behind home invasion
Police: Man attacked, cut person he thought was behind home invasion

An Austin man is accused of cutting an apartment resident with a machete because he thought the victim was involved in a home invasion, according to an arrest affidavit released this week. Samuel Diaz-Parra, 58, was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in jail. The attack happened...
Temple physician arrested for child porn, Texas Medical Board says

TEMPLE Texas Medical Board: Physician arrested for child porn The Texas Medical Board on Monday suspended the license of Temple physician John Middlemiss Palmer after he was arrested on child porn charges. “The Board panel found that on or about April 18, 2018, Dr. Palmer was charged with possession of child pornography by the Texas Attorney...
Jury weighs murder charge in Austin stabbing death of Daniel Spencer
Jury weighs murder charge in Austin stabbing death of Daniel Spencer

A Travis County jury began deliberating Monday evening in the murder trial of 67-year-old James Robert Miller Jr., who is accused of fatally stabbing 32-year-old Daniel Spencer in September 2015. Miller’s attorney says it was self-defense. Spencer was killed at his home early on the morning of Sept. 21, after inviting Miller to his house to play...
More Stories