The New Orleans Ground Transportation Bureau — which provides regulatory oversight for school buses, party buses, taxis, rideshares, pedicabs, and tour guides — will be moved from the city’s Department of Safety and Permits to the Department of Public Works. The City Council approved the change at a Thursday meeting at the request of Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
“It’s a natural fit,” Marcello Barbaro, the deputy director of administration at DPW, said on Thursday. “It will go hand and hand with the enforcement we already do with our parking and towing enforcement. And we’ll definitely expand out more enforcement.”
Barbaro explained that the enforcement activities for DPW’s Parking Enforcement Division are very similar to the enforcement activities required for enforcement of Ground Transportation Bureau regulations. He said they could also consolidate the administrative hearing process in one place.
In April, as the city was grappling with the financial fallout from the coronavirus crisis, the head of the Ground Transportation Bureau at the time recommended a similar consolidation as a cost saving measure. He recommended creating a new “Department of Vehicles” that would have included the Ground Transportation Bureau and DPWs parking and towing divisions.
He also wanted to incorporate Safety and Permits’ Motor Vehicle Inspection Bureau as well as the Equipment Maintenance Division under the Chief Administrator’s Office. The city didn’t make any changes to those two offices, and it didn’t create a Department of Vehicles. But the City Council on Thursday still followed a central part of that plan by consolidating the Ground Transportation Bureau and the Parking Enforcement Division under DPW.
The council’s actions on Thursday changes the New Orleans Municipal Code. But there had been some questions among officials, including at a Civil Service Commission earlier this year, as to whether this move went against the city’s Home Rule Charter. The charter functions as a kind of constitution for the city and is more difficult to amend than the code.
The charter mandates that Safety and Permits has some responsibility for how the Ground Transportation Bureau does its work.
Most changes to the charter require an election. But mayors can reassign the responsibilities of a limited number of departments — including DPW and Safety and Permits — using an executive order, which then must be approved by the council. But the second option isn’t available to mayors in the final year of their current term. Cantrell is up for reelection later this year.
But the attorneys for the city concluded that it wasn’t necessary to change the charter in order to move the GTB. The charter doesn’t require that Safety and Permits regulate taxis and limos. It only gives Safety and Permits the task of recommending policies and procedures for how to issue permits — called Certificates of Public Necessity and Convenience — for those services. The responsibilities being shifted to DPW are about administration and enforcement, not creating permit policy.
“Attorneys for the City have reviewed the proposed change and found it to be consistent with the Charter,” said Andrew Sullivan, Chief of Staff for Councilwoman Kristen Palmer, who sponsored Thursday’s ordinance on Cantrell’s behalf.