About two dozen taxi drivers showed up at a Jefferson Parish Council meeting Wednesday, renewing their request for officials to punish the popular ride-hailing service Uber for operating in the parish even though the council has rejected legislation that would have authorized it to do business in Jefferson.
Although the parish recently sued several individual Uber drivers and filed for an injunction seeking to ban the service from operating in unincorporated areas of Jefferson, the cabbies want officials also to consider somehow blocking locals from using the mobile app with which the company’s customers purchase rides.
Whether that’s feasible remains to be seen. Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee said Wednesday she didn’t believe it is, but she promised her office would fully explore that option.
Meanwhile, the parish Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office have indicated they don’t intend to get involved in the dispute.
The Parish Council earlier this year considered a measure that would have permitted Uber and similar companies to offer rides in Jefferson’s unincorporated areas after the New Orleans City Council ratified similar legislation. But the Jefferson measure was defeated in April after some council members said the proposed rules would not have created a level playing field with the heavily regulated taxi industry.
Even so, Uber and its subsidiary, Raiser, expanded into Jefferson Parish within a few months, recruiting drivers and picking up customers.
Uber’s position has been that Jefferson has no law banning the company. The taxi industry counters that Uber is violating both a parish ordinance requiring all commercial drivers in Jefferson to have “certificates of public necessity and convenience,” or CPNCs, and state laws mandating specialized licenses and plates for commercial drivers.
Facing a constant stream of complaints from local cab drivers, Foshee’s office sent a cease-and-desist letter to the companies in late June. But backing up that letter with action has proved tricky.
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office have each essentially indicated that dealing with Uber is up to the parish administration, Assistant Parish Attorney Reed Smith said.
Also, Smith said, the State Police are waiting for an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office before getting involved because other communities in Louisiana have either legalized Uber or indicated they have no objection to its operations.
Uber then flouted Foshee’s cease-and-desist letter for weeks without suffering any consequences.
But it appeared from speakers’ remarks Wednesday that that situation changed when cabbies began purchasing Uber rides in Jefferson, jotting down details about the drivers and cars that picked them up and turning that information over to the parish attorney.
Foshee’s office then began suing Uber drivers last month, alleging in 1st Parish Court that the defendants committed violations carrying fines of up to $500 each.
Smith said Wednesday he had further asked the court a day earlier to issue a temporary restraining order requiring Uber to immediately stop offering rides to people in Jefferson Parish without obtaining CPNCs.
Smith, who was still awaiting a decision on his request Wednesday evening, said he also is seeking a permanent injunction against Uber.
If the court grants Smith’s requests and Uber continues operating as it is, the parish would ask that the company and drivers be held in contempt. “We intend to pursue all avenues until Uber stops violating our ordinances,” Smith said.
Cab drivers on Wednesday pushed for more, telling the Parish Council it needs to get control of Uber’s app and block people in Jefferson from being able to use it.
They specifically suggested “geofencing,” by which Uber drivers’ phones would not receive requests for rides made from inside certain boundaries.
Councilman Elton Lagasse asked Foshee if something like that would be possible. She said she’d examine the issue, but that it could be “like shutting down the Internet.”
She said she’d never heard of someone “geofencing” an area as large as Jefferson Parish, which stretches from the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain to the Gulf of Mexico.