The Mayor’s Office in New Orleans released a report Tuesday suggesting that Uber’s presence in the city has done little to harm the cab industry, but the cab industry is not buying it.
In an update for the New Orleans City Council, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration acknowledged that cabs picked up about 161,000 fewer fares in 2015 than they did in 2014, before Uber arrived in New Orleans. The overall number of cab trips dropped by 5.4 percent, from just shy of 3 million to a little more than 2.8 million.
But the Mayor’s Office chalked up the decline to “normal market fluctuations” and argued that the 1.2 million rides provided by Uber last year had met “an untapped need” without taking “significant customers away from the taxi industry.”
The administration, which generally has been supportive of the company’s bid to move into the New Orleans market, said that even after taking into account the decline in cab rides, the total number of fares jumped by about 1 million in 2015. Areas typically underserved by cabs, like Algiers and New Orleans East, benefited in particular, the administration said.
Many taxi drivers scoffed at the mayor’s report, saying competition from the ride-hailing service has forced cab companies to leave parking lots full of idle cars.
“I don’t know how they got that number. Business is down a lot,” United Cab Co. President Syed Kazmi said.
United has seen its business fall by 40 to 50 percent, he said, and a quarter of its 437 cabs are parked, even though in past years, the peak tourist season of October to April has seen the entire fleet in operation.
“This year, even during Mardi Gras we had cabs in the parking lot,” Kazmi said.
The city’s figures show the decline in cab rides last year roughly coincided with the City Council’s decision in April to authorize UberX, a service that depends on private citizens driving their own vehicles. In the first four months of the year, cabs reported about 46,760 more fares than they had during the same period in 2014. The decline set in during the subsequent eight months.
Kazmi said his company and other local cab outfits have created their own apps to try to compete on a more level playing field with Uber. But he said looser standards for UberX drivers, who face less stringent licensing regulations, put cabbies at a disadvantage and make it harder for individual drivers to make a living.
“We’ve been doing this business for 70 years in this city. We were here after Katrina,” Kazmi said. “But now someone else can come in without all” those regulations.
Niran Gunasekra, with the taxi drivers union, said the drop in ridership in the city has forced more drivers to operate from Louis Armstrong International Airport to ensure they get fares. While the number of passengers taking cabs from the airport has increased, there are more cabs fighting for those fares, meaning individual drivers end up making fewer trips and less money, he said.
Overall, there are about 1,600 cab licenses in the city. It’s still unclear how many Uber drivers are operating or how many hours they work. A lawsuit filed by several taxi drivers against UberX drivers last month estimated that more than 4,000 people had signed up with the company.
The Landrieu administration did not respond to questions about how it gathered the data on cab trips or the effects cab drivers say they’ve seen since Uber was permitted to operate.
The statistics do suggest that Uber is providing service in areas that traditionally have been underserved by cabs, particularly Algiers. UberX drivers accounted for almost half the 8,688 trips originating in Algiers in 2015. In New Orleans East, cabs provided about 27,600 trips in 2015 — about 3,000 more than they did in 2014 — and UberX drivers provided about 4,400 more.
The statistics on Uber’s operation appear to have been drawn from a report the company is required to submit every year providing detailed information on the rides provided by its drivers. The New Orleans Advocate first requested that report in January; the city has yet to release the raw data.
Under the ordinance approved by the City Council, Uber pays 50 cents for each UberX trip in the city. Last year, the company paid about $635,000 in fees, including a $15,000 yearly fee for a license to allow an unlimited number of drivers to operate.
The report does highlight one bright spot for cab drivers: Despite carrying fewer fares, cabs are making more revenue overall due to a rate increase that went into effect in September. Cabs brought in about $96,000 more in October, for instance, despite taking about 35,000 fewer trips.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.