Uber is no longer getting a free ride in Jefferson Parish.
The Parish Attorney’s Office this week filed lawsuits against eight people accused of either driving for, or lending their cars to drivers for, the popular ride-hailing service, which started operating in Jefferson this summer even though the Parish Council rejected legislation that would have authorized the company and other similar ones to operate in unincorporated parts of Jefferson.
Those lawsuits — as well as several others that are being prepared — ask the 1st Parish Court to impose fines and issue cease-and-desist orders to the defendants, who are accused of lacking the “certificates of public necessity and convenience” that all commercial drivers in Jefferson are required to have.
Further, Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee’s office said, it will ask the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office for an opinion on whether law enforcement agencies can ticket, arrest or prosecute Uber drivers for not complying with state regulations requiring commercial drivers to have specialized licenses and plates.
Agencies such as the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, State Police and the Public Service Commission all have been made aware of the alleged Uber driver violations, Foshee said during a Parish Council meeting Wednesday.
The actions by Foshee’s office indicate that Jefferson officials apparently are over the reluctance they once displayed about coming down hard on local Uber drivers.
Parish Council members Cynthia Lee-Sheng and Ben Zahn earlier this year sponsored a measure that would have legalized Uber and similar services in Jefferson’s unincorporated areas. The ordinance came up for a vote after the City Council in New Orleans ratified measures enabling Uber and similar companies to offer rides in both luxury vehicles and regular cars to users of their mobile apps.
The Jefferson ordinance was defeated after parish taxi drivers complained they would be at an unfair disadvantage against Uber, which they said wouldn’t have to comply with the same expensive rules as cabs and could therefore offer lower fares.
Within a couple of months, however, the company and its subsidiary, Raiser, expanded into Jefferson Parish, where they appeared to find plenty of customers and drivers.
One cab union delivered a petition with more than 100 signatures demanding that the parish enforce a cease-and-desist letter that Foshee’s office initially sent to Uber and Raiser.
Upon receiving the petition, Foshee said many of the people who would be punished with fines, lawsuits and even criminal prosecution were regular people trying to make a little extra money, not Uber’s California bosses.
However, Danny Hebert, a principal at Metry Cab, showed up at the Parish Council chambers in Elmwood on Wednesday and demanded to know what officials were doing against Uber.
“All we want is a fair playing field,” Hebert said. “These are unfair business practices being waged against us everyday.”
Foshee and Assistant Parish Attorney Reed Smith told Hebert eight lawsuits have been filed and others are coming, all alleging that the defendants committed violations carrying a fine of up to $500.
Smith said his office has asked State Police to cite Uber drivers in Jefferson who don’t obtain commercial license plates and commercial driver’s licenses. But State Police said they didn’t want to get involved without an attorney general’s opinion on the matter because other communities in Louisiana have legalized Uber. Smith said the parish would seek such an opinion.
Lee-Sheng said the company would likely not even be in Jefferson had her ordinance passed.
The ordinance would have required drug tests that Uber staunchly opposed, and had the legislation been ratified the company probably would have abandoned the market, she said.
“If we had a ride-sharing ordinance, we would have rules for them to play by,” said Lee-Sheng, adding that Uber has also started operating unilaterally in other communities that balked at legalizing its service. “It’s a shame we couldn’t get a regulatory framework in place.”