The city’s older cabs won’t have to be pulled off the roads just yet, after the New Orleans City Council on Thursday raised the maximum age for taxis by a year.
The new rules mean cabs can stay on the road until they’re eight years old, a move that taxi companies said was a step toward allowing them to put in place the financing they need for their fleets.
At the same time, cab owners and drivers said an even longer extension is needed to allow them to stay competitive with the ride-hailing services that have been allowed to enter the market.
“All I’m going to ask the council is to get relief on the age of the car for 10 years. That will help us out so we can stay in business,” said Sheree Kerner, president of Nawlins Cab.
The change from seven to eight years was approved 6-0, with Councilwoman Stacy Head absent.
The age limits were put in place in 2012 as part of a package of new requirements for cabs that also included GPS devices and security cameras. The changes were backed by the city’s hospitality industry and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, which said they were needed to ensure safe and reliable transportation for visitors and residents.
Taxi drivers fought the new requirements, which some said required the purchase of tens of thousands of dollars in equipment, primarily newer vehicles to replace the older cabs.
Kerner and Todd Ragusa, a spokesman for Carriage Cab, said at least 25 percent of their fleets are parked now because of a summer downturn in business. While cab companies, along with the rest of the tourist industry, expect lean summer months, they said this season has been particularly bad, something they blamed on the arrival of Uber, an app-based, ride-hailing service approved to operate in New Orleans earlier this year.
While not bound by all the same requirements as taxis, Uber faces the same age limits on its vehicles. However, some drivers suggested those rules aren’t being followed.
“It has become the wild, wild West in the streets out there,” said Dolores Montgomery, a driver and head of the taxi drivers’ union. “We have every type of car you can imagine picking up at the hotels.”
The age extension comes as a fare increase that cab drivers have been calling for since the stricter taxi requirements were imposed is set to go into effect.
The lack of fare increases in recent years, even after they were promised during the 2012 debates, was a point of contention during the council’s debates on the ride-hailing apps.
The increase, which will mean an extra 5 cents for each one-eighth mile and higher fares for airport trips and special events, was approved by the council June 4 and was expected to go into effect earlier this summer.
But Landrieu said the original measure didn’t provide enough time for officials to adjust the meters to reflect the higher fares. He asked the council to pass it again with a later date. The higher fares will now go into effect Sept. 1.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.