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New Orleans City Council puts Uber battle to rest - for now 

Council allows hail-a-car apps

click to enlarge At the Sept. 4 New Orleans City Council meeting, Michael Brinks of American Luxury Limousines spoke in opposition to proposed changes to the city's transportation code, which would allow hail-a-car smartphone apps like Uber to enter the New Orleans market. The council ultimately voted 4-3 to allow Uber to bring in its Uber Black service, which provides town cars and limos, with a $15 minimum fee per ride, but did not allow programs like UberX, the popular service that's in direct competition with traditional taxicabs.

Photo by Jeanie Riess

At the Sept. 4 New Orleans City Council meeting, Michael Brinks of American Luxury Limousines spoke in opposition to proposed changes to the city's transportation code, which would allow hail-a-car smartphone apps like Uber to enter the New Orleans market. The council ultimately voted 4-3 to allow Uber to bring in its Uber Black service, which provides town cars and limos, with a $15 minimum fee per ride, but did not allow programs like UberX, the popular service that's in direct competition with traditional taxicabs.

  After months of heated debate, the New Orleans City Council finally voted 4-3 to modify the city's for-hire vehicle ordinance to allow for hail-a-car app technology, including the San Francisco-based transportation app Uber, to operate within the city limits.

  Under the ordinance passed Sept. 4, luxury sedans and limousines will be able to connect with riders using app-based technology on their smartphones. Drivers also will be able to charge customers according to time and miles, much like a cab, but with a minimum fare of $15 for sedans, $25 for luxury SUVs and $45 for all other limousines. The company's popular "UberX" service, which competes directly with traditional cabs, will not be allowed.

  Those prices, says Uber's New Orleans General Manager Tom Hayes, will make New Orleans one of the most expensive Uber markets in the country. Hayes told Gambit he's happy for the win but added the company would like to reduce those minimum fares.

  Members of New Orleans' taxicab and limousine industry, which fought Uber at every council hearing, reacted with disappointment and anger. They said that they have complied — and must continue to comply — with city standards for cabs while Uber and services like it will receive an unfair advantage in the market.

  District A City Councilwoman Susan Guidry and District E Councilman James Gray have been the most vocal about what they see as the dangers of UberX, citing insurance concerns and the worry that UberX's drivers have not been properly vetted by the city.

  "I feel like we're letting ourselves in for a world of hurt," Guidry said. "If we had stronger laws, I'd be more comfortable with this."

  Former Taxicab Bureau Chief Malachi Hull, who was dismissed by the city in July, was similarly disillusioned. "I think the council is misinformed right now," he said. "What they've just done is remove the consumer protections and the safety provisions that were put in the code previously." Hull also said that wherever Uber is, UberX operates as well, because so few limo companies are willing to work with Uber.

  District D Councilman Jared Brossett, who introduced the ordinance, closed his remarks during the meeting by saying, "It's about opportunity. It's competition for everybody, not just some." He was joined by Council President Stacy Head, Council Vice President Jason Williams and District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell in approving Uber Black.

  No timetable was given for Uber Black's entry into the market, but a search on Uber's smartphone app at press time showed no cars operating in the city — yet.

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