On the protestors' side
City Council vows not to shut down the Eco-Shuttle: Jitney on
That giant green leap backwards for Houston? The potential shutdown of the city's only electric jitney service, the REV Eco-Shuttle, that brought blaring headlines from some other publications?
It's not happening. Not according to the City Council members who would actually have to make such a decision.
REV founder and manager Erik Ibarra organized a protest before this morning's meeting of the Transportation, Infrastructure and Aviation committee on the steps of City Hall, attracting a score of supporters, who also spoke before the council in defense of the shuttle.
Yet, it became evident that the City Council members on the committee have got REV's back.
"I think the requirement for seating capacity falls into the category of bureaucratic horse trading," said City Council Mayor Pro Tempore Anne Clutterbuck, after declaring a new potential ordinance that would up the seating requirement on jitneys from the current minimum of four to nine passengers "ridiculous."
Vice Chair Council Member Sue Lovell echoed that sentiment, calling REV a "very wonderful idea, which is much needed in many parts of the city."
"We're not going to put you out of business," Lovell emphasized. Instead, a new ordinance for green vehicles will be proposed, which will bring Ibarra on to the stakeholders' committee and hopefully validate REV's current six-passenger vehicles.
Once REV's current fleet of two six-seaters is grandfathered in under the new ordinance, the company could still be unable to expand upon its successful model, which along with the Washington Wave (now trademarked simply as "the Wave") represents a revolution in transportation in Houston's Washington Corridor, Midtown and downtown entertainment districts. But expansion could still be allowed as well.
"I think every great city in the United States needs to have options," Ibarra says. "We have the Wave peddicabs, the REV Eco-Shuttle, all of which complement each other. REV makes it easier for people to go out to lunch, pick up their laundry, go buy groceries — it's just a no-brainer."
Since 2008, REV has transported over 70,000 people over 35,000 miles, without utilizing any gasoline. The company has thrived with such high-profile advertisers as Houston Pavilions and Which Wich and contracts with Shell.
Whether or not the body that proposed the ordinance, the Administration and Regulatory Affairs department, has a vendetta against REV remains to be seen. Previously, the department exclusively represented the interests of taxis, and in some respects, the REV Eco-Shuttle resembles a cab rather than a Wave-style jitney because of its small scale and ability to be hailed by passengers.
Are gas-guzzling taxis spooked that the zero-emissions REV will eventually take over their territory?
Ibarra was not informed of the new ordinance's conditions until Friday, which he feels left insufficient time to make a solid argument against the new measure. He says he felt particularly targeted as a minority-owned small business, as the new ordinance would exclusively hinder his operation. After three years of working with the city and constant citations, REV only yesterday received permits for its vehicles.
Besides Ibarra, various REV boosters made their case before the committee, including an eloquent 7-year-old, Jackie Sanchez, along with a representative of downtown's Houston Pavilions. Lauren Barrash, founder of the Wave, also spoke about the need for alternative public transit in the area, declaring, "Nobody inside the Loop should ever have to drive again."
Both Barrash and Ibarra spoke of potential expansion into other rapidly developing areas, such as the Energy Corridor. Barrash, whose stylish short buses run on gasoline, has attempted to get on the green wagon with $90,000 natural gas-powered vehicles — but there's nowhere in Houston, a world capital in natural gas production — to obtain the fuel.
The current ordinance will be brought before the council for a vote on July 28, alongside a presentation of the new green vehicles ordinance. The latter won't be voted upon for another 60 days, leaving a potentially crushing gap in business for REV that still needs to be addressed.
Ibarra left disappointed with today's proceedings, telling CultureMap, "I do appreciate the council offering a solution specifically for us. It's sad that it takes 20 citizens of Houston to come forward and say this is something that requires attention, and then still not having anything solid proposed today."