By Tom Gogola, The Lens staff writer |

A standing-room-only crowd of cab drivers descended on City Hall this morning to protest a wide-ranging set of taxicab ordinances under consideration by the council’s Transportation Committee.

The New Orleans taxicab industry has long been the target of criticism on a range of issues, from its aging fleet of vehicles to its lack of credit-card machines. The 32 ordinances under consideration would address those problems, and many other issues of concern to people who use the city’s cabs.

The package of laws would also give an initial new round of 24 certificates to cabs used to ferry the disabled. Eventually, up to 120 new certificates could be issued for cabs that could accommodate handicapped passengers.

Cab drivers and their supporters packed a City Council committee meeting today to sound off against proposed changes to their industry. Photo by Tom Gogola

One hospitality executive said that a recent survey of tourists to New Orleans found that 91 percent had complaints about the city’s cabs.

The city’s plan to install “driver behavior modification systems” in cabs drew particular ire from cabbies, one of whom shouted that the ordinances represented a “storm of disrespect” to cabbies who had already dealt with significant challenges after Hurricane Katrina. Such systems include camera systems and computers that record whether a the cabbie has been driving erratically.

Cabbies used their two-minute public-speaking allotment to tell the council that in the absence of a fare increase, the upgrades – estimated to cost about $2,000 per car –  would be an onerous burden for cabbies who are already making far less than their peers in Chicago and New York City. Cabbies in those cities can make up to $100,000 a year – whereas a New Orleans cabbie is lucky to take home $30,000 after expenses, they said.

The package of ordinances does not include a fare increase, acknowledged Malachi Hull, leader of the city’s taxicab oversight office, who was heckled a few times during the roughly four-hour meeting.

Egged on by the Rev. Raymond Brown, the meeting was interrupted on numerous occasions by standing ovations and other disruptions. At one point early in the meeting, Palmer threatened to empty the chambers if people didn’t act with decorum, but she never did so.

Other drivers noted that city’s cabbies represent a voting bloc that ought not be trifled with. Passing the ordinances, said one, would leave the city with “a bunch of unhappy cabbies. And no tourist wants to meet an unhappy cabbie.”

Said another, “The mayor has said it is a privilege to have a CPNC [taxicab certificate]. We say it’s a privilege to be mayor!”

The transportation committee, comprised of Palmer, Susan Guidry and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, passed along the entire package without recommendation to the full City Council, which could consider it as early as April 5.

Tom Gogola

Tom Gogola covered criminal justice for The Lens from February 2012 to May 2013. He is a veteran journalist and editor who has written on a range of subjects for many publications, including Newsday, New...