November 2 2012 | Latest NewsThe New Orleans City Council ruled Thursday that all cabs operating at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, regardless of their home parish, must comply with the city's new taxi regulations.
By Richard Rainey, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on November 01, 2012
The New Orleans City Council ruled Thursday that all cabs operating at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, regardless of their home parish, must comply with the city's new taxi regulations. It's a blanket policy designed to keep competition level among New Orleans cabs and those from parishes with less restrictive policies.
"This is another step in what I consider a promise to the industry," Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said, "that they have the same type of competitive advantage when we talk about the airport."
But dozens of drivers gathered Thursday at City Hall didn't protest competition. They protested the cost of the upgrades themselves, hitting a chord several drivers have repeated for weeks. "You all are disrespecting the people of this industry," said Monroe Coleman, owner of Coleman Cab Co.
Malachi Hull, director of the city's Taxicab Bureau, has estimated the cost of the upgrades at about $2,000. City officials on Thursday said several venders were installing security cameras at steep discounts -- an assertion that brought jeers from the audience. One driver put the total cost closer to $7,500, leading each side to accuse the other of spreading misinformation.
Representatives of other cab companies spoke in favor of extending the rules to the city-owned airport.
The new regulations state that New Orleans taxis must be equipped with security cameras, air conditioning, GPS devices and credit-card machines. They must be no older than 11 years, although that age limit will drop to seven in 2013. In addition, cab drivers must use working, regulated meters and they must be fluent in English.
"You are our ambassadors." -- New Orleans City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson
The council's action was the final step needed for the changes, which were passed by the New Orleans Aviation Board in July. The council's Transportation Committee affirmed the regulations last month. "You are our ambassadors," City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson told the cabbies.
The new regulations will end the airport policy that cabs picking up passengers must return empty to the airport, Aviation Director Iftikhar Ahmad said. There will still be a $200 fee associated with the decals meted out to cabs in compliance with the new rules, a cost that helps cover the $1.2 million annual cost to maintain the airport taxi stands and facilities.
Michelle Thomas, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's deputy mayor of operations, said 459 New Orleans cabs work at the airport, a number in decline since the airport stopped issuing new decals seven years ago. If all 1,551 licensed cabs in the metro area comply with the new rules and buy new decals, they can start picking up airport fares, she said.
But cab driver Jason Coleman argued Thursday that that would further dilute the already sparse market of available passengers at the mid-sized airport.
Other opponents argued that the time to implement the upgrades -- which must be done before a taxi's next inspection -- was too short. Landrieu has said he wants all New Orleans cabs in compliance in time for the 2013 Super Bowl in February. After the rules were proposed in April, they were hung up in court until August, when a district judge ruled them legal. City officials estimate 400 cabs have complied so far.
City Councilwoman Stacy Head expressed some regret about where the regulations ended up. She said cabbies should be allowed to use mobile phones to accept payments, instead of permanent, fixed credit card machines; that there should be more venders providing security cameras; and that a vehicle's age should mean less than its condition. That last one got her a round of applause from the drivers.
Nevertheless, Head voted for the ordinance and for Thursday's resolution. "It's just making sure that everybody plays by the same rules," she said.