Jefferson Parish has 430,000 residents, 18,000 businesses and thousands of visitors every year but has a maximum of 304 taxicabs operating in the parish. There aren’t even that many drivers at this point. Good luck getting a cab.
Jay Lapeyre, president of Laitram, said in a recent letter to Parish Council members that his customers and the company’s 1,200 employees in Jefferson Parish “routinely experienced unreliable cab service with broken promises, missed flights, work interruptions, and related waste in time and stress.”
Given the lack of taxis, the parish ought to be a prime candidate for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services. But the Parish Council has struggled for months to come up with an equitable ordinance to legalize the industry.
After delaying several times, the council is expected to take up the issue Wednesday (Sept. 21). At this point, there are three proposals. But some business and community leaders are concerned that the proposed regulations are tilted toward protecting the cab industry and are unfair to ride-hailing businesses.
They are also frustrated at the council’s slowness to deal with the issue.
The Jefferson Parish Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the council Sept. 14 expressing its strong support for app-based transportation and suggesting compromises on a half dozen issues that have been a sticking point. “Our community is simply underserved by the less than 300 for hire vehicles on the streets. Time and again, we have heard stories of unavailable transportation for short destinations and especially ignored needs after dark,” chamber President Todd Murphy said in the letter.
Residents, businesses and visitors “deserve better customer service, convenience and safety,” the letter said. The chamber also expressed support for the request by the taxi industry for a “fair and equal playing field,” to the extent that is possible given the differences between the two businesses.
The chamber, which has been working for several months to bring all sides together, has sensible suggestions for improving the proposed ordinances.
Taxi drivers have argued that drivers for ride-hailing services should be drug tested, as taxi drivers are. But the chamber points out that taxi drivers are only tested when they are hired, and for many of them that was two or three decades ago. The parish has the authority to randomly test taxi drivers, but never has, the chamber said.
The chamber recommends that drivers for both industries be subject to random tests each quarter — with 15 names pulled from each group. That is similar to New Orleans’ rule, but the sample size is smaller to reflect a smaller number of drivers. The chamber also suggests testing any driver within 24 hours after an accident.
Some other council proposals are unnecessary, the chamber argues. Drivers for both groups pay fees, so there is no need for an additional occupational license. State law provides rules for vehicle insurance, so the ordinance doesn’t need to delve into that. The 50-cent per rider fee to be paid to the parish is too high, the chamber argues. Its suggestion is to cut that figure in half.
“It was never our intention to get ‘into the weeds’ in respect to the legislation. However, after weeks of discussions and research, and in the interest of time, we thought our suggestions might help in reaching a compromise and consensus on either piece of legislation,” the letter said.
Good for the chamber for trying to end the impasse.
The Jefferson Parish Council has been at this for more than a year. Meanwhile, Uber has started operating in the parish without regulations. It shouldn’t be so difficult at this point to settle on a fair approach to ride-hailing services. Communities across the country, including Gretna, have laws in place.
The Parish Council ought to take the chamber’s advice and let technology work for residents.