Kenner's proposed fees for Uber, shuttle buses concern airport, transit companies

Posted on: March 21 2017 | Posted in: Latest News

By Katherine Sayre, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

A proposal in Kenner to charge new fees on Uber and Lyft rides, shuttle buses and limos at Louis Armstrong International Airport has transportation companies warning the costs could put them out of business and New Orleans city leaders concerned about hampering the airport's economic growth.

The Kenner City Council in January delayed a vote on regulating so-called transportation network companies (TNCs), including the ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft. Kenner has been working on drafted legislation for months to catch up to New Orleans, unincorporated Jefferson Parish and Gretna, which already have regulatory systems for ride-hailing apps in place.

An amended version of the ordinance circulating ahead of the Kenner City Council meeting Thursday (March 23) proposes fees for ride pickups at Armstrong Airport or any other "transportation facility" in Kenner: $4 for Uber rides; $6 per passenger on shuttle buses; and $10 per trip for limousines and executive sedans. 

For companies such as Uber, the $4 pickup fee Kenner charges would be combined with a $4 passenger fee the city of New Orleans imposes, making the combined $8 charge the highest for transportation network companies in the country, an attorney for Uber said in a letter to Kenner City Hall on March 15. 

"Such high fees would make TNC services unaffordable for many consumers, and it would directly undermine TNCs' ability to provide access to reliable and affordable service for residents and visitors alike," wrote Uber's counsel Kate Wooler. 

Revenue from New Orleans' $4 fee pays for airport operations, and does not go into the city's general fund. 

Kenner's legislation would also require Uber drivers to obtain a "Louisiana driver's license ... for transporting passengers for hire," which apparently refers to a Class D chauffeur's license, a requirement that no other government in Louisiana has imposed on transportation network companies, Wooler said. That type of license would require additional fees and tests. The legislation also requires drivers to "possess a physician's letter," she said, another measure that's not imposed elsewhere in the state.

"In short, the proposed ordinance would impose one of the most onerous regulatory regimes for TNC drivers and riders in the country, and is inconsistent with surrounding jurisdictions," Wooler said.

"We would likely be forced to shut down operations in Kenner," Uber spokeswoman Evangeline George said Monday if the proposed ordinance were enforced.

Lyft doesn't currently make pickups at Armstrong Airport. About 11.1 million visitors traveled through the airport in 2016. There are an average of 1,400 taxi trips and 900 Uber trips every day, which can surge to 2,800 taxi trips and 1,500 Uber trips at peak times, according to the city.

Warren Reuther, owner of Airport Shuttle, said his company contracts with Armstrong Airport to provide trips to and from downtown hotels at a set cost to passengers that can't be raised. Adding a $6 per-passenger fee on a company that shuttles about 40,000 passengers would put his company out of business, he said. 

Reuther said he consulted with the national Airport Ground Transportation Association, and the $6 fee would make Armstrong Airport "the most expensive airport for shared ride ground transportation fees in all of North America, possibly the world." It might also violate a federal law regulating fees and taxes directed at airport transportation operations, he said.

"Is there a specific reason why the taxicab industry is being exempt from the onerous per person or per trip fees when Airport Shuttle, with a legally binding bid contract, is not?" Reuther said in a letter to the City of Kenner. 

Kenner Councilman Mike Sigur said the amendments are being used for discussion and haven't been officially introduced. He said the goal of the regulations is to create an even playing field for taxis, Uber and Lyft, which are all ultimately vehicles for hire, he said.

"This is not just trying to help out one (industry) or the other .. or (a single) entity in the industry," Sigur said.

As for the pickup fees, Sigur said, Kenner is preparing for more wear and tear on city streets as the new billion-dollar airport terminal is constructed and opens in 2019 and those fees will pay for repairs. Although the airport is officially New Orleans city property, it sits in the middle of Kenner.

"The city of Kenner, with the airport being in our city, has a huge infrastructure maintenance concern because of the traffic that comes to the airport, out of the airport, and it just tears down our streets, and we don't have the means to repair them as we should," Sigur said.

The Kenner City Council's publicly posted agenda with proposed ordinances does not include the draft that's been sent to stakeholders in the debate.

The regional economic development group Greater New Orleans Inc. will ask the Kenner City Council to delay a vote on the ordinance Thursday and instead form a committee to hear input from economic development groups about the potential impact of the proposal, said Caitlin Berni, GNO Inc.'s vice president of policy and communications.

Kenner Councilman Dominick Impastato said the original ordinances he proposed for taxicab and transportation networks companies were "perfectly consistent with Jefferson Parish, Gretna and even the city of New Orleans" in collaborative effort with Uber, Lyft and the taxicab industry. 

The ordinance being proposed now, he said, has amendments that are "markedly different than what I was proposing a few months ago" and to which he is "vehemently" opposed. "The last thing in the world I want to do is put an undue burden on a growing, progressive, positive industry in our community," Impastato said. 

New Orleans and the airport sent a five-page comment letter on the ordinance to Kenner officials with concerns that the fees "will have a substantial negative impact on available transportation for the community and visitors to the region." The letter questions why the ordinance imposes a $4 fee at the airport and a 50-cent fee elsewhere in Kenner.