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Friday, February 1, 2013

Cab drivers face long wait times at city inspection station

Posted By on Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 2:20 PM

Line at the cab inspection station.
  • Line at the cab inspection station.

As the countdown to the Super Bowl quickly winds down, and throngs of out-of-towners descend on New Orleans for the game, cab drivers are still facing heavy wait times for city inspections proving they're in compliance with the Landrieu administration's taxi reform rules, which were passed by City Council last year and recently survived a legal challenge.

Many drivers, concerned they'll miss out on tourism business if they're not able to get an inspection soon, say the city hasn't done enough to improve service at its inspection station in eastern New Orleans.

Just after 10 a.m. today, lines of cabs at the inspection station, stretching from the inspection building around a long curved driveway, all the way out to Old Gentilly Road. The station is open only four hours per day, three days per week for new inspections, five days if a driver has to return for re-inspection.

"If you don't have the inspection tags, you don't work," said Mohammad Ashraf. "Then you come and sit here all day."

A driver standing nearby, who declined to give his name, said he had been waiting since 3:20 a.m.

Were waiting almost five hours, said Seid Ali. Its just two people [doing inspections].
  • "We're waiting almost five hours," said Seid Ali. "It's just two people [doing inspections]."

Ashraf said he was there for a re-inspection after failing an initial inspection because of his car's paint job. Along with the fares he's lost waiting for his inspection, he said he's spent between $1,600 and $1,700 so far to come into compliance with the new rules. For drivers who've had to replace cars older than the city-mandated maximum of 11 years, costs can run significantly higher than that.

“It’s a big investment for each car," Syed Kazmi said. “It’s about $15,000 per cab.”

(More after the jump)

Kazmi, president of United Cabs, the city's largest taxi company, said that because of the short hours and lack of inspectors — just two for full car inspections, he claimed — the city is able to process only a handful of the cars that come to wait at the inspection station every day. United Cabs' entire fleet of 450 cars was supposed to be inspected by the end of January. But as of Jan. 31, the tally was about 220, Kazmi told Gambit in a phone interview.

You come and sit here all day, said cab driver Mohammad Ashraf.
  • "You come and sit here all day," said cab driver Mohammad Ashraf.

“There are backed up cars from different companies that were supposed to go last month or the month before," Kazmi said. “We’re trying the best we can do, but so far nobody’s helping us out."

Mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni, responding via email to a request for comment, wrote that the city is successfully processing far more cars than Kazmi says and has been meeting demand. Berni disputed Kazmi's claim that only two inspectors are working at the site, saying the city added an extra person several months ago.

"For the month of January, a total of 332 taxicabs have passed inspection, there have also been a number of inspections completed where cabs did not pass," Berni wrote. "We have closely monitored the volume of cabs coming in for inspections and have not seen a problem with the resources and investigators that we have deployed."

Berni also charged that several United car owners "willfully delayed taking their vehicles to the inspection station," adding that 345 United vehicles have had new equipment installed, while just 224 have been inspected.

"Seeing the discrepancy between the number of cabs in compliance and the number actually inspected, we contacted United to urge them to get their vehicles into the station, which is the reason for the high volume of vehicles seeking inspection this week," Berni wrote.

Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said many United drivers deliberately delayed their inspections, which the companys president denies.
  • Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said many United drivers deliberately delayed their inspections, which the company's president denies.

Kazmi confirmed Berni's numbers but denied the allegation that drivers were delaying the inspection. He noted that equipment installation wasn't the only requirement under the reform package. Some drivers whose equipment had been installed were still waiting on minor repairs, permit renewals, meter calibration or other improvements or maintenance required for full city approval.

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