Taxicab vomit fine discussed in City Council debates, still not law

Alexandra Klima

Austin City Council members are debating two different versions of an ordinance penalizing patrons who vomit inside a taxicab during their ride in the vehicle.

Each version of the ordinance states cab passengers will be charged an added fee for vomiting, although the exact charge has not yet been determined, said Ed Kargbo, president of Yellow Cab Austin. The statement of the final ordinance’s details is expected to be released Friday, Kargbo said. He also said the vomit ordinance is not in effect yet, so Austin residents need to know that taxi drivers cannot yet legally charge a fee for vomiting.

Education junior Haley Jones described her recent experience with taxicabs and vomiting and said a taxi driver attempted to charge $275 after one of her friends vomited in his taxicab on their way home from downtown.

“He freaked out and it took him a while to pull over,” Jones said. “We just wanted to get home, but he kept rudely complaining. We never imagined the fine to be so expensive.”

Eventually, one of Jones’ friends called 9-1-1, and a policeman “came to their rescue,” Jones said. Jones said the cab driver was affiliated with a licensed company, but could not remember the company’s name.

“The cab driver kept saying ‘It’s the law, you have to pay me the fine,’ but the cop insisted there was no law in effect for such a matter,” she said. “We ended up paying the cab driver $50 because we felt bad for inconveniencing him. The vomit was in between the seat but not all over the place, and definitely not worth $50 of damage.”

Biology sophomore Bryce Tracy said he thinks it is a good idea, however, to implement some sort of legitimate penalty for the damage caused by vomiting in a cab.

“Cleaning up vomit is gross, and passengers who are about to throw up in a cab should try to communicate with the cab driver to pull over prior to it happening,” Tracy said.

Although some people have had bad experiences with late night intoxication and taxi drivers, Yellow Cab Austin, which produces 97 percent of Austin’s taxi dispatch business, continues to advocate the company’s concerns for drinking and driving, Kargbo said.

“We want to make sure there are cabs available for the folks who make the responsible decision to get a cab after they have gone out and had a few drinks,” Kargbo said.

Yellow Cab Austin works with organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Sober Ride and other entities to make sure enough options are provided for intoxicated passengers, he said. MADD allows Yellow Cab Austin to participate in their anti-drunk driving events in order to make sure enough awareness is raised about drinking and driving. Sober Ride subsidizes their cab rides on busier nights of the year such as New Year’s Eve and Halloween, helping out the partygoers, he said.

“We have to remember one thing,” Kargbo said. “People are going to go out, and they are going to drink. We want to make sure people, students or anyone else have the possibility of getting in a cab so they don’t drink and drive.”

Printed on Thursday, February 16, 2012 as: Law may fine passengers who vomit in cabs