After a contentious debate lasting nearly five hours, the New Orleans City Council passed a sweeping package of ordinances aimed at improving taxi service in the city. The April 18 meeting drew hundreds of cab drivers, who filled the City Council Chamber to oppose the new laws, which are backed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the local tourism industry.
The Landrieu Administration withdrew a number of controversial proposals that were in its original package, including one that would have increased the fee for transferring or selling a certificate of public necessity and convenience (CPNC) — a taxi license — from $350 to $2,000 or 20 percent of the sale price, whichever was higher. Malachi Hull, who oversees the city's Taxicab Bureau, described that and several other changes as "concessions to the industry."
Overall, the administration got most of the changes it sought, despite drivers' concerns that the new rules would be costly for cab companies. Refurbished salvage or "junk" cars no longer will be granted CPNCs, for example. Come August, cars that are more than 11 years old will not pass inspection.
Cabs also will be required to install safety equipment such as GPS systems, passenger information monitors and security cameras. Under the law, cameras will run whenever the cab is operating, even when the driver is off duty, and police will have access to the footage in the event of a criminal complaint. Council members Jon Johnson and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell expressed concerns that cops would get access to footage any time the camera was running, even when someone is driving the car for personal use. Hedge-Morrell called for language limiting police access to the time a crime occurred.
"When you pass a law, you need to put the intent into it," she said. "You need to put something in there saying that when a cab is being used for personal use, those pictures can't be viewed."
The proposal passed unanimously without that change, but with the administration promising to include such language in the Taxicab Bureau's policies.
Responding to tourism industry complaints of poor cab service, Sheree Kerner, president of United Cabs, the city's largest taxi company, showed a video of drivers waiting, often for the better part of a day, at the city's lone cab inspection station in eastern New Orleans, which, she said, frequently has only one inspector working.
"Hospitality industry, now you see what we go through," Kerner said after the video concluded.
Asked to respond to the complaints, Hull said the city could not promise improvements before August, when many of the new inspection requirements go into effect. District B Councilwoman Stacy Head said that was unfair to drivers. "It seems to be inequitable to regulate them when we're not fixing it within ourselves," Head said. — Charles Maldonado