Vote over ordinance to regulate services like Uber, Lyft postponed by Jefferson Council despite objections _lowres

Advocate file photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Taxi Drivers protest before an October Jefferson Parish Council meeting.

Over the objections of taxi drivers, the Jefferson Parish Council on Wednesday deferred a vote on new regulations for ride-hailing services such as Uber.

The ordinance the cab drivers wanted passed Wednesday largely is the same as a previous version they opposed. That one died a year ago when the council couldn’t get either the taxicab industry or Uber, the largest ride-booking service provider, to support it.

Since then, however, Uber began operating in Jefferson despite the absence of a regulatory framework.

The company has pulled out of some markets where governments have instituted regulations it considers burdensome, and it issued a statement saying the proposed ordinance would prevent it from operating in Jefferson Parish.

Cab drivers who filled the seats at the Parish Council meeting in Gretna said they’d like to see the new ordinance adopted without delay.

Companies like Uber and Lyft use a mobile phone app to connect people who want a ride with owners of private vehicles registered with the companies.

Uber has been popular since it began operating in the New Orleans area last year, but taxi drivers and their industry representatives say it has an unfair advantage because they are more tightly regulated, which costs them money. They also portray the service as potentially unsafe.

Those complaints resurfaced Wednesday as the council deferred the ordinance until June 22 because there are still parties who want to provide input.

“Every day that this goes on in Jefferson, where there is no regulation (of Uber), it’s putting somebody at risk,” said Daniel Herbert, of Metry Cab. “It’s only going to take that one time, and I know what it’s like to lose somebody to a drunk driver. I know what it’s like to know a female who was raped. … If I can do anything to stop something like that, I’m going to damn sure try.”

Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken, who is proposing the new ordinance with colleagues Cynthia Lee-Sheng and Ben Zahn, asked Herbert if he opposed the ordinance last year. He said he did.

“I’m getting criticized for asking for a deferral, but I just want to be clear that we’re at this point almost a year later because you at that time opposed what is almost exactly the same (ordinance),” she said, echoing earlier statements by Zahn. “I just think that it might be slightly unfair to be critical of a deferral of a few weeks.”

Representatives of Uber did not speak at the meeting but released a statement criticizing the proposal as an overly burdensome law “backed by entrenched special interests that would eliminate ride-sharing in the community.”

“This proposed framework is out of line with every other jurisdiction in Louisiana and the 30 states across the country that have embraced ride-sharing with modern regulations,” the company said. “Uber would not be able to continue (operating) ... in Jefferson Parish if the proposal as written were passed into law.”

The ordinance, among other things, requires additional background checks and vehicle inspections, along with a $200,000 annual fee from each ride-booking service to pay for enforcement.

Some of the cab company representatives who spoke in support of the ordinance said they still don’t think it does enough, but they said it’s a start.

Councilman Craig Johnston, who voted against the ordinance last year, said he did so because he wanted it to be even stronger and that he didn’t think Uber would be able to operate in the parish regardless.

“I didn’t know that they were going to tell us, ‘Bite it, we’re coming into the parish anyway,’ ” Johnston said.

Zahn, however, noted that he and Lee-Sheng had warned that could very well happen if the council did not pass the ordinance last year. “They did absolutely snub us, but that was our concern that I think we shared with the whole council,” he said.

The parish and cab drivers have filed suits to prevent Uber from operating in Jefferson, but thus far they have been unsuccessful.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.