As they head into one of busiest weekends of the year, New Orleans cabbies are seeking to sideline UberX drivers with a lawsuit saying they should be blocked from picking up passengers because they don’t meet the requirements of state law.
The Civil District Court suit is being brought by two dozen cab drivers against 10 specific UberX drivers, but it could lay the groundwork for a wider-reaching ruling aimed at undercutting the city ordinance allowing the ride-hailing service to operate in New Orleans.
Cab drivers fought unsuccessfully last year to block Uber from entering the market with its UberX service, which allows drivers without special licenses or equipment to pick up passengers in their personal vehicles.
The City Council and Mayor Mitch Landrieu approved an ordinance allowing UberX in New Orleans in April. But the suit alleges that state law prohibits motorists from picking up fares unless they have a chauffeur’s license or commercial driver’s license from the state.
The suit seeks an injunction prohibiting UberX drivers from working unless they have such a license.
Attorneys for the cabbies declined to comment on the suit Monday. An Uber official in Louisiana did not respond to a request for comment.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday before Judge Piper Griffin.
Malachi Hull, the former head of the city’s Taxicab Bureau and an opponent of Uber, said he was not directly involved in the suit. But he described it as a unique strategy to hold the drivers, rather than the company, responsible for complying with the state law.
“You can always add folks on, and the entire 4,000 or 5,000 drivers in the metro area are going to be captured in that dragnet,” Hull said, referring to estimates of the number of drivers signed up with UberX.
It appears that the UberX drivers named in the suit all picked up fares who actually were people involved in preparing the filing. The suit suggests that few, if any, of the service’s drivers have a chauffeur’s or commercial driver’s license.
The suit also alleges the city’s ordinance amounts to unfair business practice because UberX drivers are not required to go through the same background check or have the same expensive equipment required of traditional cabs.
The case is the second lawsuit targeting Uber or its drivers in the New Orleans area. Last year, Jefferson Parish sued the company for allowing drivers to pick up passengers without the chauffeur’s licenses or permits required by the parish. Jefferson officials are now negotiating with the company to hammer out a deal that would allow it to operate legally in the parish.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.