The fight over Kenner's regulations for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft appeared to be dead after the City Council passed a new law covering the companies in June, but it turns out it was just hibernating.
On Friday, a group of taxi drivers filed a petition in state district court in Gretna asking a judge to force Kenner to require that drivers for the ride-hailing companies get occupational licenses — a proposal that was passed, un-passed and eventually rejected earlier this summer by the council.
The taxi drivers argue that annual occupational licenses — and the accompanying fees — are required of taxi companies but the same is not required of drivers for Uber, Lyft and similar companies.
As is normal procedure for a request for a writ of mandamus, Judge Conn Regan of 24th Judicial District Court signed an order requiring the city of Kenner to appear at a hearing July 25 to explain why it shouldn't be directed to require the licenses.
The issue is simple, according to Madro Bandaries, the attorney who filed the writ on behalf of the taxi drivers.
"To us, it's very clear. Either Kenner is going to enforce the law or not," he said.
Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn said Friday the city had not been served with the petition, and he couldn't comment on its specifics.
"The city of Kenner has and always will enforce our process on occupational licenses through our code department," Zahn said.
He also said the petition seems premature as no ride-hailing companies have applied for occupational licenses yet.
The Kenner City Council's night started with optimism and ended with frustration, at least f…
The issue of occupational licenses loomed large in Kenner's long-running debate over how to regulate vehicles for hire. The first ordinance the council passed this year, over the strenuous objections of representatives from Uber and Lyft, would have required that each of their drivers purchase his or her own occupational license.
Taxi companies are allowed to purchase a single occupational license that covers all their drivers, who are considered employees. Uber and Lyft, on the other hand, say their drivers are "independent contractors."
City officials replied that other independent contractors are required to purchase occupational licenses, and Councilman Mike Sigur said at the time that if the companies wanted to call their drivers employees, then the drivers might not each be required to get an occupational license.
The Kenner City Council will meet at 3:30 p.m. Monday to reconsider an ordinance it passed j…
But just days after passing that ordinance, and with Uber and Lyft threatening to stop picking up riders in Kenner, the City Council reconvened in a special meeting and, essentially, took it all back.
More weeks of negotiation followed before the council passed a new ordinance removing the requirement that each individual driver have an occupational license.
The issues in the suit are not new. They were raised by taxi drivers at the meeting where the new law was passed.
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"Nothing wrong with Uber and Lyft, but if they don't have to meet the same requirements (as taxi drivers), then y'all are putting people's lives in jeopardy," Addie Washington, a cab driver, told the council in June. The two companies "operate just like we do. They should be governed the same way," he said.