New Orleans committee bumps rules for Uber to the full City Council without a recommendation

July 29 2014 | Latest News
By Mark Waller, | The Times-Picayune

New Orleans City Council members on Tuesday (July 29) added more suggestions on how to regulate digital car services such as Uber during the second transportation committee meeting on the subject in as many months. But the group chose to forward a set of already proposed changes to the full council for its consideration, without any recommendation from the committee.

The council could take up the issue on Aug. 14 at the earliest.

Council member Stacy Head identified a need for enforcement measures against non-compliant drivers operating under digital dispatching services, suggesting immobilizing cars with wheel locks. She also said the city will need more financial resources to increase enforcement of transportation regulations when mobile device applications are active in the city, suggesting higher fees for transportation operators.

Council member Susan Guidry said the discussion wasn't broad enough with its focus on tweaking rules for luxury car services. She said the city should also create regulations for ride-sharing services, because they inevitably will begin operating whether or not the law permits them.

The basic rule changes proposed so far are to eliminate a three-hour minimum for luxury car trips and to set a new range of minimum fees, from $25 for a sedan ride to $90 for a plush sport utility vehicle that includes a stop at Louis Armstrong International Airport.

Uber, perhaps the most publicized of the companies with transportation apps, indicates it wants to start running its high-end car service, called Uber Black, in New Orleans. Ryan Berni, advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said the administration presented rule changes for luxury cars partly because the city left that sector unaddressed during taxi regulation changes in recent years.

As she did during a similar hearing in June, Guidry pressed Uber representatives on the idea that they will introduce the lower tier ride-sharing version of their product, called UberX, after the limousine feature of their app is functioning. Uber's public policy director for the Americas, Justin Kintz, told her the company would gladly discuss rules applying to UberX in the future.

The discussion, which lasted about three hours, echoed many of the pro-Uber and anti-Uber arguments that speakers raised at a hearing in June.

The company and its supporters describe a more efficient, reliable, inexpensive service that spurs improvements in transportation accessibility and opens an avenue for small operators to launch their own businesses. Its critics, often from the taxi and limousine industries, describe an unworkable economic model that lacks assurances of safety, pricing fairness and non-discrimination of customers by drivers.

One notable difference between the two meetings was the position of Malachi Hull, who last month sat with administrators as the chief of the city's Taxicab Bureau.

City Hall dismissed Hull earlier this month. On Tuesday, he appeared, he said, as a concerned citizen. He spoke to the committee about dangers of lax regulation with digital car dispatchers.

He said services such as Uber exclude people who lack smartphones or credit cards. He described security ramifications of overseeing transportation systems, including examples from around the world of people using taxi services in terrorist plots and human trafficking.

"When you have a driver that's not permitted, that's called hitchhiking," Hull told council members. "I want you to remember that.