The city could be another step closer to allowing ridesharing apps like UberX to operate in Orleans Parish. The New Orleans City Council Transportation and Airport Committee voted April 1 to send several amendments to a proposed ridesharing ordinance to the full council "without recommendation," echoing the concerns that all parties have had since the ridesharing debate began last year.
The proposed ordinance, to be decided by the City Council April 9, would create a special class of vehicles-for-hire for newly designated "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 there.
At the meeting, Uber held up plastic bins with 10,000 ping-pong balls, which the company said represented the 10,000 signatures on a petition demanding the service in New Orleans.
Ryan Berni, who spoke on behalf of Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration, explained that no special license would be required for drivers of TNCs. Cab drivers require a special chauffeur's license. A TNC driver would need to pass a background check, but would not be required to undergo a fingerprint check, both of which are required of cab drivers. TNC vehicles also would not need commercial license plates, though the city requires taxis to have them.
Insurance would be handled via a two-tiered coverage model. The first insurance period would cover the driver when a for-hire app is turned on but before he or she has been matched with a rider. The second period 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 taxicab drivers, supporters of ridesharing and other local stakeholders have aired for more than a year. Uber remains dissatisfied with how many regulations are being imposed on its potential UberX ridesharing service, while the taxicab industry says those regulations are not enough.
Trevor Theunissen, Uber's public policy manager for the Southeast, said the ordinance is a step in the right direction, but the company "would have significant challenges and would not operate even with this amendment passing today." Among the issues raised by officials with Uber and Lyft were requirements for 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, which potential TNC operators oppose for privacy reasons.
Dolores Montgomery, a cab driver and president of a local cab drivers union, told the council 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.'"