Thursday, June 8, 2017

Zahn and Sigur’s Next Act – No Rules For Taxis


After their failed attempt to strap onerous and possibly illegal anti-competitive regulations on Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft that would have essentially run TNCs out of Kenner, Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn and District 2 Councilman Mike Sigur have disclosed their new strategy. If they can’t regulate Uber and Lyft out of Kenner, they can unregulate the Taxi industry.

Admittedly, the Taxi industry and taxi drivers in Kenner have had to work under some ridiculous rules,  an annual health screening for drivers and other rules that have little to do with the driver or passenger safety, but to completely unregulate the taxi industry is also ridiculous.

And, again, it has nothing to do with public safety or the best interests of consumers which should be the paramount goal of a Mayor and a City Council.

It’s all about favoring local companies versus non-locals and trying to decide who wins and who loses.

Set rates from Armstrong International Airport are in place to prevent price-gouging by the Taxi industry. On the surface, deregulating prices appears to be a good thing and should result in lower fares as the Taxi industry attempts to be more competitive with Uber and Lyft.

But, what if it has the opposite effect and prices rise significantly, irritating locals and visitors alike?

One of the biggest complaints about TNCs, particularly Uber, is “surge” or “dynamic” pricing. Essentially, when there is a “surge” in the amount of customers trying to book an Uber, the company puts out a call to its drivers offering them more money, in the form of higher fares, to get on the road and accommodate the increased usage.

This can result in nightmarishly high fees.

A trip that may have cost $10 to get somewhere can now go for as much as $300 or more to get back home.  Uber implements “surge” pricing automatically and any event can trigger it, from a concert to a disaster like Hurricane Katrina to the London terror attacks last week.

While London taxi drivers were giving folks free rides so they could get home safely after other forms of public transportation were suspended, Uber’s computer algorithms triggered surge pricing resulting in numerous complaints.

Uber has announced that they will be offering refunds to affected London passengers which helps now but, does little to remedy the situation, or someone’s wallet, at the time.  

“Surge” pricing at Armstrong could be an issue and, rather than allow Uber to utilize “surge” pricing and simultaneously remove fixed-price taxi fares from Armstrong, Kenner should opt to keep the price-fixed fares but as a maximum fee that can be readjusted annually. This would protect consumers while still allowing the free market to set standard fees.

As I’ve discussed for months now, since Zahn, Sigur, Council President Lenny Cline and other members of the Kenner City Council were so focused on regulating TNCs (while benefiting the local Taxi industry), they have completely ignored consumers and public safety.

"We've got to find that (regulatory) balance," Sigur told Nola.com.

Perhaps if you would think about what is best for your constituents, the majority of your constituents anyway, and focus on public safety instead of trying to decide winners and losers, the task wouldn’t be so difficult Mr. Sigur.

If you, Lyin’ Ben and Stumblebum Lenny had started there Mr. Sigur, it wouldn’t have taken you over a year to get where you are now.
And the three of you wouldn't have embarrassed Kenner in the process.


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