The ride-hailing service Uber offered its services in Jefferson Parish for just three days before it attracted a cease-and-desist letter from the Parish Attorney’s Office.
The letter from Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee threatens the company with fines, litigation and even criminal prosecution if it does not stop operating without permission from the parish.
An Uber spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday about whether the company will abide by Foshee’s letter. In other areas where it has gotten similar cease-and-desist demands, Uber often has continued to offer its services to locals.
On Friday, Uber announced it would begin offering rides to users of its cellphone-based app in Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes. St. Tammany President Pat Brister on Monday welcomed Uber to her parish, but Jefferson has adopted a much less enthusiastic stance.
Earlier this year, the Jefferson Parish Council considered but defeated a measure that would have let Uber and similar companies operate in unincorporated areas of the parish.
That measure was voted on after the New Orleans City Council passed legislation authorizing Uber and like companies to offer rides in luxury vehicles as well as regular cars.
Foshee launched an investigation over the weekend into Uber’s plans to enter the parish. On Monday, she signed a letter addressed to Uber offices in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, saying the company was running “an illegal business” without proper licenses.
“Uber Technologies and ... (its subsidiary) Raiser are using computer software to facilitate, aid and abet criminal violations of (parish ordinances) and other applicable local and Louisiana state law,” the letter says.
The letter also accuses Uber of placing Jefferson Parish residents at risk because the company’s drivers are operating without required certificates or taxicab permits.
“You are ordered to cease and desist this activity immediately,” the letter says. “Continued violation will result in further action as provided by law, which may include, but is not limited to, civil and criminal prosecution, a $500 per day fine, and banning of future operations in Jefferson Parish.”
In a statement over the weekend, Uber argued that none of Jefferson Parish’s existing transportation regulations specifically apply to Uber or other ride-hailing companies, which don’t consider themselves traditional taxicab services. The company said it was offering its services in Jefferson because people there were demanding it, and the busy July 4th holiday was approaching.
The co-authors of Jefferson’s ride-hailing services measure, council members Ben Zahn and Cynthia Lee-Sheng, tried but failed in April to reach a compromise that all parties involved could accept. Much of the debate centered around whether legalizing companies like Uber would leave the parish’s taxicab companies at an unfair disadvantage.
Cabs are subject to regulations that don’t apply to Uber and its sort, whose fares tend to be lower.
“As we see ... this is obviously an issue that will be decided in court,” Zahn said in a statement Tuesday. “Hopefully, there is a solution in the near future which benefits all our residents.”