Police chief hopes more cabs would lead to fewer drunk drivers

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The South by Southwest crash that killed three people has led to a wider discussion about drunk driving here in Austin.

Police Chief Art Acevedo has said for years that Austin has a bigger problem than many other cities.

To help cut down on the number of drunk drivers, Acevedo says the city needs more taxis to take people home at closing time. Some people waited hours just to get a cab ride during the festival. He fears some may choose to drive drunk instead of waiting that extended period for a sober ride home.

“On any given weekend night, or when there’s a special event, anytime past midnight, good luck catching a cab,” Acevedo said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Taxi drivers say the number of people waiting for a cab during SXSW was much higher this year compared to past events.

“It’s grown so much over the last three years,” said Nadarr Osman, a driver with Yellow Cab. “Every year SXSW is getting bigger.”

“[Some taxi customers were] waiting for hours (during South by Southwest) because there’s not enough cabs. There are not enough cabs (during) regular week (at) peak times,” said Ron Means, general manager of Austin Cab. “I encourage the chief to ask for more permits. We do need more permits.”

But it’s not that easy for the city to add more cabs. A spokesperson for the city’s transportation department says they’ve given as many permits as allowed. A change in the city code is needed to issue additional permits.

“From a community standpoint we need to take a hard look at the numbers and practices and make sure we’re not setting people up for failure,” Acevedo said.

The transportation department says Austin City Council members are the ones who can change the city code allowing for more cabs. That is something Acevedo hopes they’ll consider soon.

A taxi cab task force also met Monday. Members discussed the possibility of temporary permits during special events and an app or other centralized service connecting customers to all of Austin’s cab companies.

“I think the cabs need to be utilized and not cherry pick calls. Take the calls as they come,” said Harold McClung, a taxi driver.

McClung believes the solution is not more permits, but in better use of the taxis already on the road.

Three taxi companies currently have permits with the city. Yellow Cab has 461 cabs, Austin Cab has 187 cabs and Lone Star Cab has 108. Austin Cab says they had every single one of their cab drivers out during the festival.

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