The Transportation and Airport Committee agreed during a meeting today to defer a vote on an ordinance that would allow hail-a-car apps like Uber to operate in New Orleans.
Ryan Berni, an advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and a key architect of the legislation, explained that the ordinance removes a three-hour reservation requirement for limos and hired cars. It also allows them to make trips to the airport and adjusts the rate structures so that those services would be able to charge per mile and minute, as opposed to a pre-arranged fee. In an effort to widen the gap between for-hire cars hailed through services like Uber and a traditional taxi, the ordinance would set a price floor for limos and sedans. Any ride in a sedan would have a minimum fee of $25, and any ride in a limo would have a minimum fee of $35. Trips to the airport would carry a $75 minimum for sedans and a $90 minimum for SUVs.
Berni said the city looked at other jurisdictions like Nashville to get a model for the legislation, then adjusted the framework to adhere to the New Orleans market. Director of local governmental affairs Eric Granderson reiterated that the proposed ordinances makes no changes to taxi regulations, and that services like Uber X, Lyft and Sidecar are not on the table for discussion.
But discuss them the council did.
Uber X—which allows any driver in any car to pick up passengers—was the most frequently raised point of opposition to the legislation, with lawmakers expressing their concern that the car sharing service would leak into New Orleans. Opponents pointed out that in nearly every city that has allowed Uber Black, Uber X has quickly followed.
Councilmembers Susan Guidry and James Gray were the most vocal opponents to the infiltration of Uber X into the city. Guidry asked Uber’s New Orleans general manager Tom Hayes several questions about Uber X and its illegal expansion into other markets, and Hayes fumbled through an answer before saying, “I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t really speak to the legality of it.”
“So you’re really really not trying to answer the question honestly,” Guidry said to great applause.
But Guidry also said that she wants to see the Uber Black technology available in New Orleans, having used the service in D.C. “I like the competition it will give the taxis,” she said. “And they need it.”
Council President Stacy Head acknowledged the many letters she’s received from supporters of Uber and assured them that establishing a minimum price for the company and others like it was not so-called price fixing, as declared by Uber in an email blast to consumers, but regulation of an industry that requires government oversight to ensure consumer safety and protection. Head compared the transportation industry to pest control, saying that you wouldn’t let someone in your home who had not passed a rigorous background check, and the same should be true for getting into a car with a stranger.
“We’ve gotten comments on both sides that there’s not enough separation or too much,” Berni said. “We tried to reach a middle ground.”
The committee heard from several representatives of the limo and for-hire car industry, many of whom were opposed to the legislation, saying they could not run their businesses with such low minimum fares. Representatives from the taxi companies also voiced their concern, many pointing out that imposing such strict regulations that cost them thousands of dollars in 2012 was pointless only to let a black car service come in and operate without similar restrictions.