People needing a lift in Ascension Parish now can call on ride-hailing services like Uber now that the Parish Council has amended an existing ordinance to make it possible.
The council on Thursday amended its ordinance on occupational licenses, taxes and regulations to include regulations on “transportation network services,” the term in the ordinance for ride-booking arrangements made by using a digital network — like an app on a smartphone.
“We view this as a positive for Ascension Parish,” said Kyle Gautreau, chief of staff for Parish President Kenny Matassa, who proposed the ordinance to the council.
“In our conversations with residents, in St. Amant and Prairieville in particular — many who come here from Baton Rouge and New Orleans — they were requesting the ability to use Uber,” Gautreau said.
Matassa pursued bringing ride-hailing to the parish, Gautreau said, to accomplish three things: increased public safety — communities with ride-hailing services have reported a drop in DWIs — as well as innovation and new jobs.
Services like Uber offer drivers who meet the parish’s new regulations the chance to work full time or part time, Gautreau said.
“All you need is a car,” he said.
With the council’s vote, Ascension became the first suburban Baton Rouge parish to adopt regulations for ride-booking, according to Uber officials.
In May, Thomas Hayes, general manager of Uber Louisiana, said in a statement that if the Ascension Parish vote went through, the parish “would join their neighbors in East Baton Rouge, other Louisiana communities like New Orleans and Lafayette, and 30 states across the country that have welcomed Uber with sensible, modern ride-sharing laws.”
Ride-hailing services allow people to use smartphone apps to hail drivers who use their own cars to transport passengers for a fee. Riders can pay for the service with a credit or debit card using those apps.
The amended Ascension Parish ordinance requires that the ride-booking company run local and national criminal background checks on driver applicants; maintain a current registry of drivers; provide on its website ways to report complaints about a driver; and establish a logo or decal for the vehicles used in the service or a uniform “trade dress” for the drivers.
The company also must apply for a permit to operate in the parish; the fee for the permit is $500.
For the drivers, the ordinance requires they provide rides exclusively booked through the digital platform and not accept “street-hails”; use the required logo or trade dress; have a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration and insurance; and be at least 21 years old.
As far as charges for the service, the Ascension Parish ordinance says the transportation company may “offer service at no charge, suggest a donation or charge a fare.”
If a fare is charged, as it typically would be, the passenger must be informed of the cost and the method of calculating it, the ordinance says.
Uber officials have been speaking with Ascension officials for several weeks about opening up access for the ride-hailing business.
Another player in the ride-booking game, Lyft, is operating in New Orleans but doesn’t have any immediate plans to move into the Baton Rouge area, a company spokeswoman said recently.
Advocate reporter David Mitchell contributed to this story. Follow Ellyn Couvillion on Twitter, @EllynCouvillion.