Uber-like moving companies draw state’s attention

John Bartell drives for Pickup, an app-based service that provides a pickup truck and driver on demand.
John Bartell drives for Pickup, an app-based service that provides a pickup truck and driver on demand. Star-Telegram

While Texas cities debate how to balance regulating traditional taxi companies alongside nimble app-based competitors like Uber and Lyft, state transportation officials are confronting a different kind of disruption.

A new breed of online moving companies with names like Buddytruk and Pickup has drawn interest from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, which wants to ensure the companies are following state laws requiring moving truck drivers to be licensed.

“Anyone moving household goods in a pickup truck for hire is required to register with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and show proof of insurance in the amounts required by law,” reads a letter the department sent to Addison-based Pickup in October. “Something bought at a garage sale for home use would qualify as household goods.”

Since May, the department has sent letters to four app-based moving companies, warning each that they may be violating state law, according to spokesman Adam Shaivitz. Along with Pickup, they include Austin-based Burro, as well as HashMove and Buddytruk, both based in California but offering services in Austin.

“Providers that refuse compliance can be referred to law enforcement because moving household goods without a license is a crime,” Shaivitz said. So far, the agency has not referred any cases involving these four companies to law enforcement.

The past two years have seen the launch of more than a dozen Uber-style moving or delivery companies, most debuting in cities on the West Coast. Many advertise themselves as being more convenient than traditional moving companies. Like Uber, some encourage those with access to a large enough vehicle to sign up as drivers to make extra money.

“You need to have a smartphone, a full-size pickup truck legally registered to you and insured to State requirements,” says Pickup on the driver sign-up page of its website. The company, which promotes its drivers as “Good Guys With Pickups On Demand,” launched in 2014 and serves Dallas-Fort Worth. Asked if the company requires its drivers be registered with the state as household goods movers, CEO Brenda Stoner said in an email that the company was addressing that issue.

“We are working closely with a very collaborative Texas DMV, other regulatory agencies, and our attorneys and consultants to ensure that customers can adopt this new style of delivery service in a trusted, safe, insured and compliant manner,” Stoner said.

Both Burro and HashMove only employ drivers that comply with state laws, according to company officials. Buddytruk declined to comment.

In 2011, lawmakers beefed up the penalties for someone who moves household goods for compensation without properly registering with the state. The new law was particularly stringent on repeat offenders, increasing the penalty on a third offense to a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

According to a House Research Organization report, the bill was aimed at a rash of “con artists who are not registered to transport household goods.”

“They often quote a small to reasonable sum to pack and move household goods, but they hold the goods hostage for a much higher ransom once they are in their possession,” the report reads.