Ever since the Great Recession, my go-to means of making a living between jobs has been to drive “black cars” and limousines. I have over ten years of experience as a professional driver, including several years of full-time driving work. For most of this time period, I was working in another state. I moved to Austin after a layoff and started working as a chauffeur while looking for a full-time job. When I first started jumping through the necessary hoops to qualify as a driver in Austin, it occurred to me that the “red” in “Red State” just might refer to red tape. Despite my licensure in another jurisdiction and years of experience, and after spending about $125 of my own money to prove my worthiness to drive professionally in Austin, I got a city of Austin chauffeur’s license.
When the Super Bowl eventually rolled around, my Austin-issued license wasn’t good enough for Houston. In order to drive Super Bowl attendees, I and fellow Austin-based drivers had to travel to Houston to get another proof of no criminal record from the Houston courthouse and apply for temporary chauffeurs’ licenses from the city of Houston’s transportation department. This requirement cost the drivers a day of work, and our company had to absorb the expense of the additional licensure, record retrieval, and transportation between cities.
My city of Austin license finally expired this past April. I got a jump on the renewal process so that there would be a smooth transition between licenses and no loss of income, starting the paperwork a month ahead. Fingerprinting is required, but unfortunately my fingerprints don’t reproduce well. I’ve been fingerprinted for government jobs before and had never had a set acceptable to an agency, except in 2015 when I went to the Texas Department of Safety, where, to my shock, my initial set of fingerprints was good. I had full intentions of returning to that same office for my next set of fingerprints, but I was instead referred to a particular subcontractor preferred by the city. Predictably, I got the call telling me my prints were no good, and I had to try again. The second technician warned me that I may not be able to drive at all if my fingerprints were rejected again. This seemed unnecessarily alarming, but I remembered—when it comes to commercial driving, this is a red-tape state. After three weeks of hearing nothing, I called the Austin Ground Transportation Regulation Office myself, and they said they don’t give that information over the phone. I would need to come to the office in person before 12:30 p.m. on a weekday.
Luckily, I was offered a full-time job elsewhere, which started the day my license expired. So even though the government was doing its best to keep me from earning a living, I was able to continue receiving an income with a different job.
I did continue to pursue the licensing procedure to keep all my options open, but I had to postpone the renewal another three weeks until I had a holiday at my new job. I appeared at the transportation office to at last find out whether my fingerprints had been acceptably reproduced. I got there early so that I could also get in line to take the test that drivers of pedicabs, taxis, horse carriages, and limousines all take. Unfortunately I found out that my fingerprints were rejected, so my trip was for naught, and my morning off was wasted. Additionally, my driving record I had purchased for $15 was now expired. At the time of this writing, I continue to wait for the alternate FBI background check to come through, and I have been waiting weeks for those results. If they ever come through, I’ll have to take another morning off from my new job to take the test onsite between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on a weekday.
If I hadn’t had a full-time job offer in time, I would be unable to earn a living. While I have more than one vocation, there are people for whom driving is a full-time career. They don’t have the advantage of a second career to make up for missed income. In addition to the harm these regulations do to individual drivers, they also punish ground transportation companies. Ground transportation companies accept a given volume of reservations based on the number of their available drivers. With a driver suddenly removed from their roster, these companies have to subcontract their reservations to other companies and lose out on revenue until they find a replacement driver with a working license.
I am a responsible citizen hustling for work. Standing in my way are arbitrary licensing regulations trying to take the place of demonstrated experience and employer discretion. Government should be hesitant to impose licenses in any marketplace, and then only as needed to preserve public health and safety.