New Orleans City Hall (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

The New Orleans City Council approved an ordinance on Thursday that will extend a cap on pedicab licenses, ensuring it cannot be lifted for at least two years. The vote solidifies the market control of the city’s three existing pedicab companies, which have possessed all 45 existing licenses since they were first awarded in 2011. 

The decision is a blow to a newly formed pedicab company, Bourbon Street Bike Taxi, which hoped to create a “worker cooperative” that would avoid some of the allegedly unfair labor practices employed by the existing three companies. It now appears highly unlikely that the company will be able to get the pedicab licenses — known as certificates of public necessity and convenience, or CPNCs — necessary to actually launch the business, at least until 2024. 

Thursday’s council meeting was the last one before five out of seven current council members are replaced next week. The five council members vacating their seats next week all voted in favor of the ordinance. The two council members who are keeping their seats — Helena Moreno and Joe Giarrusso — voted against it. 

Moreno was the sole member to explicitly bring up concerns on Thursday, arguing the council was moving too quickly on a complicated issue. 

The 2010 law that first allowed pedicabs to hit New Orleans’ streets said the city could issue a maximum of 65 permits — 20 more than are currently held. But the ordinance also set up an initial pilot period, during which only 45 permits could be released. 

The pilot program was only supposed to last two years. But the City Council voted to extend it seven times, eventually setting up the pilot period to last indefinitely. That status quo carried on for years with little attention, until Bourbon Street Bike Taxi tried to get the city to issue additional pedicab permits. 

In June, the city denied the company’s request, saying the city had already issued the maximum 45 CPNCs. The company appealed that decision in court, arguing that the city is actually able to issue up to 65. That lawsuit is ongoing. 

Thursday’s ordinance, sponsored by Councilwoman Kristin Palmer, officially ends the pilot period and lowers the permanent permit cap from 65 down to 45. 

Palmer said the intent was to finally make the pedicab program permanent, while ensuring the French Quarter wouldn’t be overrun with congestion.

“The French Quarter simply cannot handle any more traffic,” she said.

She said that given the continued effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the city’s tourism economy, now isn’t the right time to consider additional pedicabs. Palmer argued that the ordinance “does not shut the door to future expansion.” And she offered an amendment to the ordinance that she described as a compromise measure for those, like Bourbon Street Bike Taxi, who want the city to add more CPNCs. 

However, that compromise amendment will actually make it more difficult for the city to add more CPNCs. The amendment, which was successfully included in the final ordinance, stipulates that the city is not allowed to add any more permits before it conducts a third-party market analysis. On top of that, the market study cannot be done for at least two years, meaning until January 2024. And the study cannot be launched until the chair of the council’s transportation committee, as well as the director of the city’s Grounds Transportation Bureau, agree in writing that the city’s tourism industry has fully recovered from the coronavirus pandemic. 

So although Palmer’s ordinance laid out a process for adding more permits down the line, that process creates more roadblocks than currently exist. 

During the public comment period, supporters of the ordinance said they were concerned that the French Quarter would be overrun with more pedicabs than the market could absorb, clogging the streets with pedicabs that had nowhere to park. Those speaking against the ordinance accused the council of intentionally shutting down the efforts of Bourbon Street Bike Taxi and protecting the financial interests of the three existing pedicab companies. 

Michael Isaac Stein

Michael Isaac Stein covers New Orleans' cultural economy and local government for The Lens. Before joining the staff, he freelanced for The Lens as well as The Intercept, CityLab, The New Republic, and...