Uber, Lyft still in legal limbo as Jefferson Parish business groups brought in to help resolve dispute _lowres

In this photo taken on Dec. 16, 2014, a man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Jefferson Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee’s office is investigating allegations that the ride-hailing service Uber is operating in the parish illegally.

In an email to Parish Council members on Saturday, Foshee said Uber would be violating the law and could be subject to civil and criminal penalties if the allegations are true.

The company’s Louisiana website indicated Friday that it would be offering its services in Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes.

In a written statement, Uber spokesman Bill Gibbons said: “Ahead of a busy Fourth of July weekend, we want to ensure everyone in the area has access to safe, affordable transportation options when they celebrate.

“For months, riders and local entrepreneurs in Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes have been eager to take advantage of the same economic opportunity and safe, reliable transportation options enjoyed by their neighbors in New Orleans. In response to their calls, we expanded access to safe transportation across the metro area in advance of the upcoming holiday weekend.”

The New Orleans City Council has passed legislation that allows drivers for Uber and similar services to offer both rides in luxury vehicles and less expensive lifts in regular cars to users of their cellphone-based apps.

But in March, the Jefferson Parish Council defeated a measure to permit Uber and similar companies to run the less-expensive type of ride-hailing service in unincorporated areas of Jefferson. The vote was 5-2.

Much of the debate centered around whether passing the measure would leave the parish’s taxicab companies at an unfair disadvantage.

Cabs must abide by expensive regulations that wouldn’t apply to Uber and similar services, whose fares tend to be lower.

The measure’s authors, council members Ben Zahn and Cynthia Lee-Sheng, tried but failed to find a compromise acceptable to both sides.

In her email to the council, Foshee said her office has received information that Uber may have gone into Jefferson Parish despite lacking “proper licensure, certificates (and) authority to do so.”

Council members and Parish President John Young’s administration “have gone to great length to facilitate Uber’s legal entry into the market,” Foshee said in her email. “Any attempt to enter the market in violation of current law would subject Uber to a cease and desist order.

“Continued violation would subject Uber to potential civil and criminal prosecution, daily fines and banning of future operations in unincorporated Jefferson Parish.”

New Orleans isn’t the only major city in Louisiana that has legalized Uber and similar companies. Baton Rouge and Lafayette also have authorized the services.