The most recent issue of Reason magazine arrived yesterday, and I stumbled on this little tale of small town stupidity from Quincy, Illinois. A man living there, Jonathon Schoenakase, suffered the loss of a good friend at the hands of a drunk driver. His response was unusual and was an incredibly positive reaction to a very emotional incident. He started “Courtesy Rides,” a free service in town offering rides for people who’d had too much to drink to get them home safely.
All well and good. He had a lot of takers for the free service and added a second car and then a bus to the fleet. Schoenakase supported his efforts on donations and tips. But that made the taxi drivers in town nervous and they lobbied the city council to change the law, which they did, specifically so Schoenakase would be required to buy a license.
And that brings us to the first stupidity. One reason the taxis were upset is because Schoenakase had a competitive advantage by virtue of being unlicensed. Taxis are not allowed to work past midnight, but bars in Illinois don’t close until 2:00 a.m. and some clubs at 4:00 a.m. Now why the fuck would you intentionally have a law that makes it harder for people who may have been drinking to get home safely. That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. And wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense to simply change the law to allow taxis to operate after midnight than make Schoenakase have to license his free rides. In any event, the sheriff denied his application.
Right or wrong, Schoenakase continued to operate his free Courtesy Rides and the only complaints that police have received have come from the rival taxi drivers. He’s now been arrested twice in sting operations. Police “caught him” in the “illegal act” of accepting tips from riders. But Chief of Police Rob Copely admitted there wasn’t really a problem to begin with. “Under questioning from aldermen, [he] said the police department hasn’t received any significant complaints about Courtesy Rides.”
Copley also revealed that police used a sting-style undercover operation on several occasions to see if Schoenakase would try to coerce a tip or donation from a passenger who declined to give anything for a ride. Each time, he said, Schoenakase did nothing onerous to demand any kind of compensation.
Apparently that’s just how they treat good Samaritans in Quincy, Illinois.
Online, the Reason article, though slightly different from the print version, put it this way.
When you’re charging for something and someone else figures out a way to offer it for free, normally you’re SOL. Unless, of course, you happen to be operating in a regulated industry with licensing requirements—and you happen to have the ear of the city council and/or the chief of police. Then there’s another, more appealing alternative: You can make the competition illegal.
But I think Jalopnik in writing about the story summed it up best:
We understand the police are just following the law, but this entire situation stinks like a three-days-worn t-shirt off a drunk’s back. A guy goes out of his way to reduce drunk driving in his town, an effort he’s doing to honor his dead friend, and the city shuts him down at the behest of a taxi company. Real nice work there. If nothing else how about just give the guy his $10 license and be done with all this pointless nonsense.
Reason even picked Quincy Police Chief Rob Copely as their Nanny of the Month for August of this year.