Ridesharing amendments passed on to full City Council without recommendation

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Cab driver Dolores Montgomery tells the Transportation and Airport Committee that she knows financial hardship. "I'm in my cab seven days a week," she said. - JEANIE RIESS
  • JEANIE RIESS
  • Cab driver Dolores Montgomery tells the Transportation and Airport Committee that she knows financial hardship. "I'm in my cab seven days a week," she said.

Following presentations from Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration, Uber, the ridesharing platform Lyft and dozens of public comments, the New Orleans City Council Transportation and Airport Committee voted today to pass amendments to a ridesharing ordinance on to the full council without recommendation. 

The ordinance, to be decided by the full City Council on April 9, would create a special class of vehicles-for-hire for newly named Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). These would include app-based transportation companies like Uber and Lyft, both of which had representatives and Uber T-shirt-clad supporters at the meeting. Uber organized a small rally outside of City Hall the hour before it began, serving coffee and donuts to supporters, as it has done before nearly every Council meeting in which ridesharing has been discussed since last February. 

At the meeting, Uber held up plastic bins with 10,000 blue and white ping pong balls, which the company said represented the 10,000 signatures on a petition demanding the service in New Orleans. 


Supporters of Uber stand with 10,000 ping pong balls, representing 10,000 signatures on a petition urging the City Council to allow the company to operate its ridesharing service Uber X. - JEANIE RIESS
  • JEANIE RIESS
  • Supporters of Uber stand with 10,000 ping pong balls, representing 10,000 signatures on a petition urging the City Council to allow the company to operate its ridesharing service Uber X.

Ryan Berni, who spoke on behalf of the city, explained that no special license would be required for drivers of TNCs, to which an audience member in the chambers stage whispered, "Jesus." Cab drivers require a special chauffeur's license. A TNC driver would need to pass a background check, but would not be required to complete a fingerprint check, both of which are required of cabdrivers. 

TNC vehicles would not need commercial license plates, though the city requires taxis to possess them. 

Insurance would be handled via a compromised insurance model bill, complete with two periods of liability coverage. Period one would cover the driver when a for-hire app is turned on but before he or she has matched with a rider. Period two would take effect from the time a driver is matched with a passenger to the completion of that ride. 

TNC vehicles would not be allowed to sit at cabstands or be hailed by passengers on the street. 

The meeting was a sounding board for many of the concerns that taxicab drivers, supporters of ridesharing and other local stakeholders have been airing for more than a year; Uber is still dissatisfied with how many regulations are being imposed on its potential Uber X ridesharing service, while the taxicab industry is still complaining that those regulations on its potential competition are not enough. 

Trevor Theunissen, Uber's public policy manager for the Southeast, said that though the ordinance is a step in the right direction, the company "would have significant challenges and would not operate even with this amendment passing today." Among those issues raised by Theunissen, Uber's general manager Tom Hayes and representatives from Lyft, were a mandatory drug test for drivers and the city's proposed per-ride fee, which is set at $0.50 per ride.

The ordinance would create a driver registry, and the potential TNC operators also oppose that part of the bill for privacy reasons, citing the fact that a large percentage of TNC drivers would be working part-time. 

Though the proposed legislation in the ongoing app-based hail-a-cab conversation has changed, the dialogue has largely remained the same. Public comments from both sides still point fingers at one another and the Landrieu administration, which enforced sweeping regulations on the taxi industry before the city hosted the Superbowl in 2013. 

Dolores Montgomery, a cab driver and the president of a local taxicab drivers union, told the council that there is no perfect industry. "Uber has said 'We cannot work with these regulations,'" she said, "and all we are saying is, 'We have to.'"


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