The taxi wars have come to Texas, and -- in the spirit of the Alamo -- cabbies in Houston and San Antonio are trying to mount a last stand. They've filed suit in federal court seeking an injunction against the unlicensed upstarts.
Uber and Lyft are ride-sharing apps that skirt the licensing requirements that nearly all cities impose on cabs, limos, liveries, jitneys and other commercial people-haulers.
Uber connects would-be riders with drivers who charge a fee. Lyft connects people with drivers who take "donations." Uber and Lyft get their money upfront, taking a percentage of each transaction while claiming that they are just the middleman and have no responsibility for ensuring the safety, cleanliness, courtesy, etc., of the free-lance drivers.
This sleight-of-hand has not gone over any better in Texas than anywhere else so far. Local news reports say Houston police have been ticketing the Uber and Lyft drivers when they can find them. That's not easy to do, of course, since they drive their own, unmarked cars, although some Lyft drivers put a pink mustache on their car when the spirit moves them.
Skirting the law
Hoping to drive the invaders from their turf, the cabbies are fighting back, filing for an injunction in U.S. District Court. Lead plaintiff Dawit Sahle operates Adulis Cab Co. in Houston.
Sahle's suit claims the app providers are trying to skirt licensing requirements for cab drivers by holding themselves out as "ridesharing" services, Courthouse News Service reported.
"The defendants seem to think that by self-designating their operations as
'Ridesharing' they are somehow precluded from regulation, and further, that they may convince unsuspecting consumers that they are something they are not," the complaint states. "In reality, the defendants are offering on-demand transportation services for compensation and subject to all the same regulations as the plaintiffs."
Sahle says the companies mislead consumers about the legality of their services.
"When asked directly about their approval status, Uber is dishonest towards consumers about their illegal transportation service, instead giving misleading responses like 'We're Here!'" the complaint states.
Uber and Lyft also benefit unfairly from not paying permitting fees required of licensed cab and limo drivers, Sahle says.
"By operating illegally with non-permitted vehicles, the defendants are skirting applicable regulations and paying zero dollars in permit fees to San Antonio and Houston," the complaint states.