Kenner councilman seeks to delay vote on new for-hire vehicle rules, airport transportation fees

Posted on: March 22 2017 | Posted in: Latest News

Kenner's vote on rules that would govern Uber, Lyft could proceed Thursday

BY RAMON ANTONIO VARGAS | The Advocate.com

In a bid to persuade his colleagues to hold off on doubling the fees that some transportation companies must pay to pick up fares at Louis Armstrong International Airport, Kenner City Councilman Dominick Impastato is proposing to create a group of volunteers to first study the changes' potential effects on those businesses.

Impastato's idea to establish a 15-member advisory committee could be voted on Thursday, when the council is due to consider a proposal to rewrite an ordinance governing the operation of for-hire vehicles in Kenner to account for new ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.

Impastato said he plans to ask his colleagues Thursday to defer voting on any measures that might affect Uber, Lyft, taxicab, limousine or shuttle bus drivers. But he said he could only confirm support from one of his six colleagues on Wednesday. 

Among other things, the measure before the council calls for ride-hailing firms like Uber to pay Kenner's government $4 per airport pickup. Shuttle services would pay $6 per passenger and limousine companies $10.

Those companies pay those same fees now to the New Orleans-owned airport, which uses the money for its operations.

The new fees could generate some $2.5 million annually for Kenner, which last year received $9 million in sales taxes from the airport. 

Uber, Lyft and similar companies would also have to pay an annual fee of $7,500 and 50 cents per pickup anywhere in Kenner outside of the airport.

Besides undergoing background checks and drug screening, drivers for ride-hailing companies would be required to have a commercial chauffeur's license, which involves additional fees and tests. Critics say Kenner would be the only Louisiana parish or city with that requirement.

An attorney affiliated with Uber wrote to Kenner officials that such requirements would make ride-hailing services "unaffordable" for most customers and that fewer drivers would be interested in driving for the services.

Meanwhile, some shuttle and limo companies say the higher airport pickup fees would drive them out of business, resulting in fewer ride options at a facility that counted a record 11.1 million travelers in 2016 and is erecting a billion-dollar new terminal as New Orleans seeks to increase its already booming tourism industry.

City officials say the new fees would help cover the cost of repairs to city streets damaged by the high volume of traffic to and from the airport.

Impastato, one of two council members who have not attached their names to the proposal, was the only one to speak out against it when it was made public Tuesday.

Impastato proposes that the city set up an advisory committee that would study how changing the for-hire vehicle rules would financially impact the businesses. It would make recommendations to the council. 

The City Council would name three volunteers to the group, with one appointment each coming from the airport's governing board, Mayor Ben Zahn, Police Chief Michael Glaser, the city's property code enforcement office, the Public Works Department, the Jefferson Parish Chamber of Commerce, Uber, Lyft, the local taxicab drivers union, the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city of New Orleans and the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Gretna, New Orleans and unincorporated Jefferson Parish have all adopted rules governing Uber and Lyft, but the Kenner council has repeatedly delayed voting on proposed rules. Cab owners have demanded "a level playing field" in Kenner, complaining that they must obey costly regulations that do not apply to ride-hailing companies.