Friday, June 2, 2017

Kenner’s ‘Uber’ Money Grab Proves It’s “Business Friendly” – But Only If You’re The Right Business

After the death of State Rep. Havard’s bill that would have provided statewide regulations for Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft, the Kenner City Council approved its own ordinance by a 6-1 vote providing more regulations and fees on TNCs operating in Kenner and at Armstrong International Airport. District 5 Councilman Dominick Impastato, who is seeking to quit on his constituents and seek a promotion to JP Council before he even completes his first term in office, opposed the ordinance.  

While I am firmly a small government guy, I do believe that TNCs need regulation, but since they operate throughout the state, they should be regulated primarily through a statewide law. Having TNCs jump through hoops for every Parish and Municipality that seeks to impose its own rules, regulations and fees is anti-competitive.

If you’re an Uber/Lyft driver, or a Taxi driver, the rules should be similar, if not identical, whether you live, pickup or drop off in New Orleans, Kenner, or any other city.  

As I wrote earlier, since Rep. Havard’s bill was essentially written for him by TNCs, I was opposed to it. I am also strongly opposed to Kenner’s ordinance as well, but not for the obvious reasons.

The new Kenner ordinance adds new fees and regulations and doesn’t go nearly far enough when it comes to Public Safety – which should have been the focus of the ordinance.

The new Kenner ordinance imposes

…a $.50 per trip fee for trips originating in Kenner.

…fees on trips to and from Kenner to the Airport and fees from the Airport to other destinations that are identical to Taxi fees (meaning consumers pay the same fee instead of possibly a lower fee for using a TNC).

…a $50 per driver Occupational License, since TNC drivers are independent contractors (they pickup and drive when they want to versus having a set work shift). TNCs are also required to pay a $10,000 fee.

The ordinance also requires that TNC drivers submit to random background and drug testing, do not pickup passengers other than those that use the APP, and have a valid Driver’s License (yes, out-of-state drivers are permitted which I believe is a mistake).

While the Occupational License (particularly for non-Kenner residents who drive for Uber/Lyft) is a debatable question, the City of Kenner has no place in imposing fees per passenger or assigning a cost to trips – that’s for the marketplace (and consumers) to decide.
If TNCs like Uber and Lyft can provide a quality service at a price that consumers think is a good value, who is Kenner to determine that for consumers? If Uber/Lyft don't provide a good service and value, consumers won't use them.

Clearly, there needs to be a level playing field for TNCs, airport shuttles, limo and taxi companies. ALL companies providing point-to-point transportation of passengers or goods should either be regulated similarly or unregulated, depending upon your viewpoint.

However, unlike Uber and Lyft, which would prefer to remain unregulated (which benefits them), I would prefer that TNCs and their drivers have the same regulations as Taxi companies and their drivers.

Regardless of your opinion, you will never convince me that Uber/Lyft drivers aren’t unregulated taxi drivers. Simply using an app on a smartphone or other device, instead of a placing a call on a dumb phone to a taxi company, does not warrant enough of a distinction.

The issues with me and TNCs and Taxi Companies have always centered around fairness and public safety.

The new Kenner ordinance does nothing to fix those issues.

In attempting to provide a level playing field for Taxi Companies and TNCs, the Kenner ordinance goes backwards and provides more onerous regulations on TNCs and their drivers.

Requiring a $50 Occupational License for a part-time job (for many drivers) is ridiculous. TNC drivers should be licensed according to Taxi Drivers and should have the same level of state Driver’s License that Taxi Drivers operate with. TNC Drivers (or their companies) should also be required to have the same level of insurance coverage that Taxi Drivers/Companies do.

Since a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) could be suspended for driving violations including DUI and would not be granted if a driver had criminal violations in his/her past, I think requiring TNC drivers to have a CDL would be prudent. Unfortunately, requiring a CDL wouldn’t result in any money flowing into Kenner’s coffers, thus the reason for the $50 Occupational License.

Requiring TNC drivers have a valid Louisiana Driver’s License is something, but not taking the further step of mandating they also drive Louisiana-registered vehicles subject to the same vehicle inspections as Taxis, is a glaring omission.

Requiring random drug tests is also a good thing but, allowing drivers to move to another app if they are suspended from one TNC due to a criminal or driving violation also does not improve public safety.

Currently, if a TNC driver is using both Uber and Lyft to procure passengers (as most do), if they are accused of dui and suspended by one company they are not precluded from accepting fares from the other – or any other competitor on the horizon.

The bottom line is that Kenner’s new ordinance is, in reality, yet another money grab and bends over to protect the operations of local Taxi Companies and local Taxi drivers. It does not provide a level playing field, instead it tilts it in favor of Local versus National.

In their haste to protect the Local Taxi industry, the Kenner City Council has proven again that it is “Business Friendly”. But only if you are the right kind of business with the right ownership (local). Calling yourself “Business Friendly” and actually being “Business Friendly” are drastically different.

The Kenner City Council should not be in a position of saving the local Taxi industry while killing TNCs. They weren’t elected to choose who wins and loses in the “New Economy”. In fact, I’m not even sure they’re smart enough to know what the “New Economy” is, let alone set rules and regulations and pick winners and losers.

That’s not their job.

The Kenner ordinance also does not improve Public Safety.

On, District 2 Councilman Mike Sigur was quick to point out that the ordinance, which doesn’t take effect for 6 months, could be amended at any time.

What that really means is, “We’re not smart enough to draft an ordinance that does the right thing but, at least we can put the process in motion to start collecting new fees and ripping off our constituents while we work out the details.”

Unfortunately, that’s Kenner Government the Lyin’ Ben Zahn/Mike Sigur way.

And that’s wrong on all counts.