NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Mixed in with taxis rolling on city streets are drivers for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. And cabbies accuse them of flouting city regulations.
"I have never seen so much foolishness on the street as I see now," said Delores Montgomery, who said she is president of the Taxi Drivers' Union.
She and other frustrated cabbies showed up for the City Council's Transportation Committee meeting Wednesday at City Hall. They said while they are loaded down with city regulations, the ride-sharing company drivers who have app-based systems ignore less stringent rules approved for them by the council.
"I survived Katrina and I can't survive what the council has imposed on us. Something is wrong with that," Montgomery continued before council members.
Cabbies and others with the union said drivers are not being drug-tested, even after vehicle accidents.
"At the end of the day, we just finished the Olympics and everybody's drug-tested and you don't compete if you fail the drug test. And the idea that certain people can just slip through that process is fundamentally unfair," said Councilman-at-Large Jason Williams.
Others concerns were voiced, including that drivers are not insured and that not enough vehicles meet mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"Uber Assist speaks generally, in terms of, the driver's conduct and helping somebody enter or exit a vehicle as opposed to describing the structure of the vehicle itself," said Jonathan Trunnell with the Advocacy Center.
He said inspections are a must.
"There are clear safety implications in having uninspected ADA accommodations within a vehicle, because that ramp is going to be supporting a wheelchair, those straps are going to be securing somebody who is traveling freeway speeds," said Trunnell.
And a consultant for taxi drivers and union leaders told council members that they have even seen Uber drivers picking up people on the streets of New Orleans who simply just flag them down.
"Accepting illegal street hails and payments, a specific no, no," said attorney and consultant Tracie Washington, who put together a voluminous report on alleged infractions by Transportation Network Companies, which she spelled out before the council members.
"I had two people who came to the cab, here comes a car coming down the street, an Uber car, he picks up the fare, he picks up the fare. I am angry," said Montgomery.
The city's Safety and Permits director was not present. That agency oversees the industry.
"Safety and Permits is the enforcement arm for ground transportation and TNCs. We want them to honor the spirit of the law and properly enforce, and comply with the ordinance that the council has passed," said Councilman Jared Brossett, who chairs the Transportation Committee.
"This misleading, one-sided presentation doesn't change the fact that Uber provides a safe, reliable and affordable transportation option that New Orleans residents and visitors have come to expect," said Uber spokeswoman Evangeline George.
LYFT also responded, releasing the following statement:
"All drivers approved to drive on the Lyft platform undergo a criminal background check, a driving record check, a vehicle inspection and an in-person screening session. Lyft also provides in-app photos of the driver and vehicle, real-time ride tracking, digital receipts, two-way rating systems, and an around-the-clock Trust and Safety team. This means consumers can provide immediate feedback on their experience and know that a Lyft team member is always available to respond to any questions or concerns. Additionally, all drivers are covered by Lyft's insurance policies."
Mayor Mitch Landrieu responded with a statement, as well:
"We disagree with Ms. Washington's assertions that the City is not enforcing TNC regulations. Like allegations made against for-hire taxi drivers, we require proof of alleged infractions by TNCs and we will investigate and take appropriate actions.We received correspondences from her on July 13 and July 21. The City sent an email to Ms. Washington on July 21 acknowledging receipt of her emails and stating that we would be investigating the complaints internally.
"First and foremost, TNC drivers are subject to the same criminal proscriptions as Taxicab drivers. In the case of TNC drivers, City Code calls for the TNC company to conduct background checks on all drivers. While not required by City Code, the City's Department of Safety and Permits conducts quarterly quality assurance audits of background checks conducted for TNCs. To complete the audit, we utilize the National Sex Offender Registry, previous records of the Taxicab Bureau (in instances where individuals had previously been Taxi drivers) and Orleans Parish Criminal District Court's Docket Master. During the most recent audit conducted in the spring, of our 50 person sample set, only one TNC driver required further research. This audit is in addition to the quarterly drug screening of randomly selected names from each TNC's driver list. Ms. Washington's allegation fails to recognize that we are auditing a population of drivers who have passed an initial screening by the TNC and that we are reporting only on instances where a background check reveals specific convictions.
"Regarding accessibility, New Orleans is striving to make all City programs, services and facilities accessible to all persons, especially those with disabilities. At this time, we are actively working with TNCs and the entire for-hire industry to improve accessibility so that all riders have equal access.
"At this time, there is no City Code requirement for accident reporting for either TNCs or Taxicabs. TNCs are required to maintain collision reports as part of their standard business records. They are required to be maintained for 2-years and must be made available within 24-hours of request. Both Taxicab drivers and TNC drivers are required to submit to substance abuse screenings within 24-hours of the accident."
"We need to make sure that the administration is enforcing those requirements," Williams said.