Even as the ride-hailing service Uber is negotiating with the New Orleans City Council over rules that would allow its low-cost UberX service to operate in the city, it already is having to deal with complaints about its recently approved premium service.
Drivers for Uber Black, the luxury service, were spotted in front of Louis Armstrong International Airport this week, trying to persuade passengers to ride with them, in violation of the rules governing for-hire vehicles, according to airport officials.
After receiving complaints about the issue Tuesday, the airport began an investigation and found five Uber Black drivers who did not have an airport decal and were trying to solicit passengers in front of the terminal, airport spokeswoman Michelle Wilcut said.
Drivers are supposed to wait in nearby lots until hailed via the Uber smartphone app to pick up passengers who have requested their services — not try to hustle business in person.
The five drivers admitted they worked for Uber Black, and they showed up in the company’s app.
Airport officials told them to leave the airport’s property, and their license information was passed to the New Orleans Taxicab Bureau “for further review and corrective action,” Wilcut said.
Uber Black, approved by the New Orleans City Council last fall, makes use of professional drivers. That differs from the UberX service, in which amateur drivers using their own vehicles are matched up with potential passengers.
Both the City Council and the Jefferson Parish Council are considering rules for the lower-cost service, with Jefferson largely hanging back to see what the city does.
Representatives of New Orleans taxi drivers, who have opposed the entry of ride-hailing services into the market, have raised accusations in both parishes that Uber drivers are flouting the rules at the airport.
Uber representatives could not be reached for comment Friday. But at a Jefferson Parish Council meeting last week, Uber spokesman Brian Trascher called the allegations about drivers soliciting business at the airport “absolutely false.”
“They don’t work for Uber,” Trascher told the council. “These are people, maybe they are pretending to, or if they say the word ‘Uber’ they are imposters, because ... the only way for the system to work is when a customer with a smartphone app hails a driver. If they don’t do that, they never connect and the driver never gets paid. So why would a driver go and offer a ride that they’re never going to get paid for, unless they’re demanding cash from the customer, which Uber would never do?”
Officials with the cab drivers’ union have said they think the drivers at the airport are conducting business off the books.
The New Orleans council is expected to take up an ordinance for services like UberX on Thursday. Uber and Lyft, another ride-hailing service, have objected to many of the proposed regulations dealing with insurance requirements, fees and drug testing for drivers.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.