Austin cab drivers just lucked into another revenue stream: the puke tax.
As of Thursday, cab drivers in the Texas capital will be able to charge passengers who regurgitate on their upholstery up to $100 extra. The new fee will be posted in a sign in every cab.
"It takes me like a couple of hours," local cab driver Joseph Ngaleu told a San Antonio TV station, "because when I clean it my car needs to be dry."
The Austin City Council passed the measure three weeks ago. It also stipulates a $1 surcharge on all rides after 9 p.m., all in an attempt to get more of the city's 675 cabs on the roads at night.
Some local students aren't too pleased about the new policy. "The fee increase mostly affects the student population, who often take cabs during these peak hours," Hannah Lapin, a University of Texas at Austin sophomore, wrote in her university paper. "Between tuition, textbooks, housing and food expenses, college students do not have a lot of discretionary income."
But the policy may have a happy side effect: 18.4 percent of residents in Austin area admitted to binge drinking -- five drinks or more on one occasion for men, and four or more for women. That puts Austin among the top 25 metropolitan areas in the U.S. for binge drinking, out of the almost 200 surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010. The risk of a $100 gross-out fine may very well deter reveling Austinites from having that last beer.
Austin's high drinking rates may be because it's home to the University of Texas at Austin, one of the largest bastions of higher learning in the country. Or perhaps it's due to the mass migration of young people. According to the Brookings Institution, more 25-to-34 year olds moved to Austin between 2007 and 2009 than to any other city in the country. Or maybe it's the city's unofficial motto, "Keep Austin Weird," which makes it the perfect setting for the South By Southwest festival, and movies like Richard Linklater's iconic ode to Gen X alienation, "Slacker."
The opening sequence of the movie actually features an Austin cab driver, who drives silently as Linklater rambles for 15 minutes about a dream he just had. If the real cab drivers of this city have to put up with that kind of stuff on a regular basis, they probably deserve the extra $100 here and there.