The New Orleans City Council's Transportation and Airport Committee has deferred a vote on an ordinance that would allow hail-a-car apps such as Uber to operate in New Orleans. The action came at the committee's June 24 meeting.
Ryan Berni, an advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and an architect of the proposed ordinance, explained it would remove a three-hour minimum reservation requirement for limos and hired cars. It also would allow them to make trips to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and adjust the rate structure so those services would be able to charge per mile and minute, as opposed to a pre-arranged fee.
Uber offers luxury car and limousine service through its Uber Black program. In an effort to differentiate between for-hire cars hailed through services such as Uber and a traditional taxi, the ordinance would set a price floor for limos and sedans — a move strenuously opposed by Uber, which called it "price fixing."
Berni said the city looked at other cities, such as Nashville, to get a model for the legislation, then adjusted the framework with an eye to the unique needs of the New Orleans market.
Eric Granderson, a former interim councilman now working for the Landrieu Administration, reiterated that the proposed ordinance makes no changes to taxi regulations and that related ride-sharing apps and services like Uber X, Lyft and Sidecar are not on the table for discussion.
But discuss them the council did.
Uber X — which allows any driver in any car to pick up passengers, once he or she has passed Uber's standards of driving — was the most frequently raised point of opposition to the legislation. Council members expressed concerns that the car-sharing service would follow Uber's luxury service into New Orleans. Opponents noted that in nearly every city that has allowed Uber Black, Uber X has followed quickly.
Council members Susan Guidry and James Gray were the most vocal opponents to Uber X. Guidry asked Uber's local general manager Tom Hayes several questions about Uber X and its expansion into other markets, and Hayes fumbled through an answer before saying, "I'm not a lawyer, so I can't really speak to the legality of it."
"So you're really not trying to answer the question honestly," Guidry said, which prompted applause from the crowd in council chambers.
But Guidry also said she wants to see the Uber Black technology available in New Orleans, having used the service in Washington, D.C. "I like the competition it will give the taxis," she said. "And they need it."
Council President Stacy Head acknowledged the many letters she has received from supporters of Uber and assured them that establishing a minimum price for the company and others like it was not price-fixing, but regulation of an industry that requires government oversight to ensure consumer safety and protection. Head compared the transportation industry to pest control, saying a person wouldn't let someone into their home who had not passed a rigorous background check, and the same should be true for getting into a car driven by a stranger.
The New Orleans taxi industry has fought Uber's arrival, as have taxi companies in other cities around the world. Taxi protests in Washington, D.C., and London have snarled downtown traffic and drawn more attention to Uber. Nevertheless, the notion of ride-sharing services and apps is taking hold around Louisiana. On June 25, Baton Rouge approved an ordinance that would allow Uber X and any other ride-sharing service, be it Lyft or Sidecar, to operate there. That move was opposed by the taxi industry there.