Published: Friday, September 14, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 14, 2012 17:09
Drunken rides home from the Quarter may soon be easier and safer than ever but cab drivers say changes may cost them their job.
On Aug. 20, a taxi cab reform package, spearheaded by the City of New Orleans, was passed that requires all cabs to have credit card machines, global positioning systems, security cameras and to be no older than 7 years of age.
The city believes that these reforms will benefit residents, the tourism industry and even business and safety for the drivers.
In the March proposal entitled “Transforming the Taxicab Experience in New Orleans: A Roadmap for Reform,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu writes, “This is not an assault on the thousands oftaxicabandfor-hiredrivers who serve as important frontline ambassadors for our city and region. But in order to enhance our position as an international travel and business destination, we must improve taxicab service in New Orleans. My goal is to achieve a complete transformation by Superbowl XLVII in 2013.”
The New Orleans taxi industry protested the reforms, stating that they were too expensive, burdensome and would cause many to lose their jobs.
Syed Kazmi, the president of United Cabs, estimates that these reforms will cost taxi cab drivers $30-35,000. Kazmi owns five Certificates of Public Necessity and Convenience, permits which give him the right pick up fares, so he could be facing a $150,000 tab. He said that he is unsure of his future.
“I have no clue how I will get the money.
If I can’t, I might just walk out,” he said.
Agreeing that the taxicab companies had a strong argument, civil court Judge Paulette Irons placed a temporary restraining order on the reforms that were supposed to go into effect on Aug. 1.
The case was then handed down to US District Judge Eldon Fallon. On Aug. 20, it was announced that the city had almost won the battle almost.
The issue at hand is whether CPNCs are private property with rightsofownership;ifnot,then the city would have the right to revoke the certificates for failure to implement the changes. It would also prevent the selling of CPNCs, which are extremely valuable.
According to a 2011 article published in The Lens, “City rules written decades ago limit the number of certificates to 1,600. City officials say it has been at least five years since the city sold a certificate, but most cab drivers say it has been closer to 20 years. That gives cab drivers with a certificate a rare and valuable commodity, which they can sell on the private market. Though six sold this year for $67,000, the average transfer price in the past two years has been just under $26,000, records show.”
“Judge Fallon ruled that the reforms could go forward. He did not state that the CPNC ordinance was unconstitutional, but he ruled that it could not be passed yet,” said Sam Brandao, a law clerk for Judge Fallon.
The city appealed this ruling which, according to Brandao, complicates the matter of enforcingtheotherreforms.
“When you make an appeal on a case like this, the entire case is on hold until the appellate court makes a decision,” Brandao said.
Still, the city has issued a deadline to each taxicab company. For United Cabs, the company Loyola has a contract with, the deadline is Jan. 13.
Kazmi agrees that his cab fleet should implement more technology and said that they could probably get financed for those expenses. He disagrees, however, with the demand for newer model taxicabs.
“Here’s the deal with the new cars: Just because it’s a 2000 model doesn’t mean it’s in bad condition. Instead, the city should create more inspection rules,” he said.
For some students, these reforms are a positive change.
“They sound great to me. All of that has already been in Chicago for forever. When I first got here, I thought it was so ridiculous. I had to tell cab drivers how to get places before, and I hate that. Not having credit card machines will just limit their customers,” Claire Fleischer,criminaljunior,said.
“I agree with the drivers that the changes may not be necessities, but as a customer, I feel they’re definitely improvements,” said business junior Tyler Schmidt.
But for cab drivers like Syed Kazmi, it will be a costly adjustment.
“This is only costing drivers so much money that they can’t afford by themselves — money that they need to make a living and support their families,” he said.
Jennie Gutierrez can be reached at email@example.com