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Rowdy cabbies fight reforms at airport

Opponent of the reforms urges the City Council to reject the measure. Opponent of the reforms urges the City Council to reject the measure.

New Orleans, La.— At City Hall Thursday, council chambers were abuzz with jeering and booing taxi drivers.

Their latest battle with City Hall is over regulations for taxis operating at city-owned Louis Armstrong International Airport.

"This is ludicrous," said Monroe Coleman in addressing the council.

Tensions have been high between the taxi industry and city government for months and they show no signs of waning.

''This needs to be put off the agenda," Coleman continued to wild applause from cabbies in the audience.

For many tourists, the first thing they do after landing at Armstrong Airport is head straight to a taxi. And the city says the ride should be memorable for good reasons.  So now the focus is on making sure taxis at the terminal offer modern conveniences.

Council members took up a resolution requiring cabbies who pick up fares at the airport to abide by the new taxi cab reforms imposed within the city of New Orleans.

"One of the things that we heard from the drivers and the CPNC holders is that, if we did adopt reforms, that they would be at a competitive disadvantage if we did not adopt the same reforms at the airport," said Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, whose district includes the French Quarter.

Cabbies will be required to have air conditioning, credit card machines, GPS devices and cameras as part of the reforms.

"Y'all are disrespecting the people of this industry," said Coleman.

So raucous were the opponents of the measure the council was discussing that they booed cab company owner Sheree Kerner, who rose to support the changes.

"People in the public and at the airport deserve a better service and it makes more financial sense to be able to comply," Kerner said, with fellow cabbies in the audience almost drowning her out.

Several times Councilwoman Palmer threatened to end the discussion entirely.  "Please, please, we will clear the chamber," she told the cabbies.

The Landrieu administration says having the changes in place will level the playing field when it comes to cabs at the airport, since some taxis are from neighboring parishes.

Currently, the number of New Orleans cabbies permitted to work at the airport is below 500.

"One of the key features of this legislation is that it will allow every New Orleans taxi cab that is in compliance with our new standards to be able to get a permit to pick up from the airport," said Deputy Mayor Michelle Thomas.  She said the city has been working with officials in neighboring parishes for more than six months to make sure cabs from their jurisdictions are up to the standards.

Tourism and business leaders said the upgrades to the industry are necessary. "A clean, safe and accessible taxi cab system is one of the obligations that I think the people of New Orleans deserve, as well as business, as well as tourism and leisure travelers visiting our market," said Rod Miller of the New Orleans Business Alliance.

Council members believe the industry's profit will increase as a result of the reforms.   "We want you to get more business.  We want you to compete with cities like Atlanta, Dallas, New York," said Councilwoman at-Large Jackie Clarkson.

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