Proposed changes to rules for New Orleans taxicabs aimed at putting the cabs on a more equal footing with ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft sailed out of a City Council committee Wednesday, even though Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration cautioned against two proposals.
Meanwhile, draft rules the city is considering for ride-hailing firms and data on the city’s enforcement of existing rules for those companies were met with skepticism from members of both the council and the audience, who questioned the accuracy of some city data and rapped administration officials for not doing more.
The city’s Transportation Committee voted unanimously to send seven ordinances to the full council, which will consider them next month.
If approved, the changes would be a win for the cab industry, which has complained about what it has called an uneven playing field ever since the council in 2015 gave the ride-hailing firms the OK to operate in Orleans Parish.
The courts and the council chamber have served as stages for the two sides’ war.
The next hearing in cab drivers’ lawsuit against certain Uber drivers is set for Oct. 28 in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.
A consultant for the cabbies told the council’s transportation panel in August that the city has not enforced even the few regulations that apply to ride-booking firms, an accusation the city disputes.
On Monday, that consultant, attorney Tracie Washington of Higher Ground Consultants Inc., filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, accusing Uber of failing to ensure that riders who use wheelchairs can access at least 3 percent of Uber vehicles in New Orleans, as she said the city’s code requires.
City Director of Safety and Permits Jared Munster said the city’s rules on that point are “not entirely clear,” that Uber may comply with the city code and Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines in various ways, and that the company is looking into how else it may comply.
One of the council’s proposals would raise the maximum age for cabs by a year, meaning the vehicles won’t have to be pulled off the road until they are 9 years old. It would be the second time in as many years the council has bumped up an age limit it put it place in 2012 as part of a package of cab industry reforms backed by Landrieu and the hospitality industry; it first did so in August 2015, raising the maximum age then from 7 to 8 years.
Deputy Mayor of External Affairs Ryan Berni, a top Landrieu aide, criticized that move, highlighting rules in other cities that call for younger cars.
“The further we continue to slip back, the further we put our industry frankly at a disadvantage, competing against other cities and even against the (ride-booking firms),” Berni said. Inspection failure rates for older cars have risen, he added.
But council members said taxicabs in New York and some other cities are in use much more often than they are in New Orleans and thus may need to be replaced more frequently. “You have some people that go do cab driving part time,” Councilman Jared Brossett said. “I’ve seen (older) vehicles that have been kept up well. I think we have to also think outside the box.”
Another proposed move that sparked Berni’s ire was Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey’s push to remove a city ban on used cabs from other parishes, a rule passed in 2012 to prevent subpar cars from being dumped in New Orleans. Given increased competition, “the concerns brought up previously are no longer warranted,” Ramsey said.
Berni disagreed, again citing safety concerns with older cars.
Other proposals, largely backed by the administration, would let drivers log data about their shifts digitally as well as on paper, let cab drivers get city approval to advertise certain services on their cabs’ exteriors and let drivers charge dispatch fees whenever riders use online hailing services to call for a cab. Still another change would let all for-hire cars be inspected annually instead of semiannually.
Munster also gave the council a taste of new rules the city is creating for ride-hailing companies. The city already asks those firms to distribute certain do's-and-don'ts to their drivers; the new rules would turn those requests into mandates, he said.
Officials could also require Uber and Lyft to report their car accidents monthly and suspend drivers who don’t submit to drug testing after accidents, Munster said.
Washington, the cab fleets' consultant, has said that Uber drivers skirt the city’s post-accident drug-testing requirement by filing claims with their personal insurance policies rather than through the companies’ policies.
Council members questioned the number of complaints Munster said the city has received about Uber and Lyft cars and how often the city has checked into them.
Munster said there have been only a few dozen complaints in the past year about the ride-hailing services, even though more than 5,400 of their drivers made 2.3 million trips in one six-month period alone, data show. Officials have received more than 700 complaints against taxicabs in the same period.
There are two hearings pending on problems with ride-hailing firms, and six complaints against them are being investigated, Munster said,
He said, however, that the city does not hear about every ride-hailing complaint because those agencies self-collect a lot of that data.
That wasn’t good enough for Councilman James Gray. “It’s hard not to jump to the conclusion that your enforcement on one side is a lot more vigorous than your enforcement on the other side,” Gray said.