It’s been more than a month since Jefferson Parish fired off a cease-and-desist letter to Uber, saying the popular ride-hailing service lacked permits to operate legally in the parish. But Uber drivers continue offering rides in Jefferson anyway, and members of a local cab drivers union are pressing officials to do something about it.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Cab Drivers Union this week filed a petition with more than 100 signatures demanding that Jefferson Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee enforce the cease-and-desist letter she sent ordering Uber and a subsidiary, Raiser, to stop selling rides without required cab permits or certificates of public necessity and convenience.
As they have in many other cities around the world, cab drivers here argue that Uber is able to offer lower fares because it doesn’t have to follow the same rules cabs do.
Ostensibly, Jefferson Parish agrees. The cease-and-desist letter threatened Uber drivers with fines, lawsuits and even criminal prosecutions. But union members say there’s been no enforcement.
At a Parish Council meeting Wednesday, Foshee acknowledged that officials are reluctant to enforce the rules too strictly. It would not be executives at Uber’s San Francisco headquarters suffering the penalties, she said, but local drivers who might not even know they were doing something illegal.
“It’s your neighbor and my neighbor,” Foshee said, “and people who have been convinced this is OK.”
Foshee said she and her staff have been consulting with the Parish Council and the District Attorney’s Office about ways Uber and the authorities can coexist without punishing regular people.
She said the goal is to see if “there’s a methodology by which we could bring Uber into compliance.”
Uber has not responded to multiple interview requests since Foshee issued the cease-and-desist letter.
Shortly before the letter came out, Uber said it didn’t believe any law in Jefferson Parish applied to the company, but it expressed interest in “developing a sensible, modern regulatory framework that would apply” to ride-hailing services.
Earlier this year, Parish Council members Cynthia Lee-Sheng and Ben Zahn co-authored a measure that would have authorized Uber and similar services to operate in Jefferson. Their ordinance came up for a vote after the New Orleans City Council passed measures enabling Uber and similar companies to offer rides in both luxury vehicles and regular cars.
But the Jefferson Parish measure was defeated in April following a debate about whether legalizing companies like Uber would put the parish’s cab companies at an unfair disadvantage.
Nonetheless, a couple of months later, Uber announced it was expanding into Jefferson Parish.
It has found no shortage of customers, and last month the group rented a conference room at a hotel in Metairie to recruit drivers for the metro area.
Lee-Sheng said she is conflicted about Uber. She said she does not want to keep the parish from enforcing its laws, but she is glad the service is available.
“The more easy and efficient transportation options we have, especially for late at night, the more we reduce ... drunk driving,” Lee-Sheng said. “It’s just common sense.”