Over the past three years, New Orleans has taken monumental steps in improving its for-hire fleets and standards. We have restored public confidence in the industry while regaining the industry’s trust in the taxicab bureau. Our transformation has been recognized internationally as a model for excellence.
While we have laid the foundation to be the world’s greatest for-hire industry, more work is necessary. The first step to accomplishing our goal is by implementing a driver training program that provides drivers with the necessary tools to serve as ambassadors for our great city. In most other cities, licensed professional drivers have initial training and annual refresher training. However, New Orleans has not had a training program in place in the 21st century. Consider that this industry influences the first and last impressions of visitors to our city. The curriculum was finalized during summer 2013, in concert with Delgado Community College, and is ready for implementation.
The next step is empowering companies to hold drivers accountable for poor service. Today, if a company dismisses a driver for poor service, she or he can simply go and work for another company within the industry. Rather than addressing the problem, the current system simply transfers the problem to another company.
As bureau director in Atlanta, I empowered the owners to augment their industry while providing drivers with a second chance. Although drivers were allowed limitless changes of company affiliation, we implemented a “driver transfer” component. A “driver transfer” is any change that is the result of a violation relating to the operation of a for-hire vehicle. Driver transfers were restricted to once per year. If the second company dismissed a driver for violating the law, the poor performer was removed from the industry.
The third step is mandating that all taxicabs be equipped with radio and/or computerized dispatch, which can include an app. Less than 800 of our 1,677 licensed taxicabs are available via dispatch to serve the public. After Hurricane Katrina, the two-way radio requirement was not enforced. In June 2011, I notified the industry that the bureau would begin enforcing the two-way radio provision in February 2012 to improve service delivery to our residents. This provision was removed, under protest, during the 2012 reforms.
Additionally, it is imperative to require that all taxicabs service at least two dispatches each day. This requirement has proven successful in Chicago.
Relaxing community standards is not the answer. We have all seen what an unregulated industry looks like without high community standards, enforcement and leadership. Just look back to three years ago.
Instead of rolling the clock backward, let’s keep our city moving forward. It only takes three steps.
Malachi S. Hull
former taxicab bureau director for Atlanta and New Orleans