Kenner cabbies ready to protest during Super Bowl over required upgrades, driver says

Louis Armstrong International Airport is moving forward with controversial new rules for taxi drivers in preparation for the Super Bowl, but one driver promised that cab drivers will disrupt the event if their concerns are not respected.

Walter Krygowski, the airport’s chief operations officer, said that taxi drivers who have not yet installed mandated new equipment in their vehicles will be allowed to pick up and drop off passengers during the Super Bowl, but only if they can prove they’ve purchased the required equipment and are waiting for it to be installed.

Krygowski informed the New Orleans Aviation Board of the new rules on Thursday. The announcement came after the airport previously extended its Dec. 31 deadline for taxi drivers to comply with rules requiring the installation of cameras, credit card machines, GPS and panic buttons.

Krygowski said taxi drivers who produce a signed contract with a scheduled installation date will be given a temporary decal. That decal will allow them to pick up fares at the airport and drop off passengers but will expire two weeks after the scheduled installation date.

Those drivers who decline to install the equipment will have to use the “short line” at the airport. Fares picked up in the “short line” can only be dropped off outside of New Orleans.

Krygowski said the mandated improvements for taxi drivers are designed to complement the more than $300 million in ongoing improvements at the facility. The upcoming Super Bowl offers an exceptional opportunity for the city to make a great impression, and taxis are a big part of that impression, he noted.

“We are looking forward to hosting the Super Bowl, and we are confident we will provide our passengers with a world-class experience,” Krygowski said.

He noted that 758 taxi drivers have already complied with the new rules, although only 20 of them were from outside of New Orleans.

The new plan was lambasted by several taxi drivers and a lawyer representing them because they say the new equipment is scarce, expensive and unnecessary. Jefferson Parish taxi drivers, particularly those who are licensed in Kenner, have been fighting the new rules for weeks and were instrumental in securing the two-week delay.

Addie Washington-Ranson said that if the airport enacts the new rules, officials will be “taking bread out of kid’s mouths.” Ranson said she’s driven a taxi for 30 years, and it seems like the new rules are designed to force certain drivers out of business. She said drivers were required to install credit card machines three years ago, but they are now being told those machines are no good.

Ranson said that if the airport moves forward with the new rules, taxi drivers are ready to stage protests during the Super Bowl.

“You’re taking people’s livelihoods. You’re putting people in debt who can’t afford to go into debt,” she said. “We feel it wasn’t handled the right way.”

Taxi drivers have claimed for weeks that New Orleans officials are trying to drive them out of business in order to make things easier for the city’s taxis at the airport.

They say that the businesses who install the new equipment have turned away non-New Orleans cabs for weeks, claiming they can’t handle any additional work or don’t have the equipment.

Drivers also complained that the decal system allows multiple drivers to use the same decal, which is not allowed.

John Redman, a lawyer representing some taxi drivers, called the contracts required for the new equipment “horrible.” Drivers will pay much higher fees for credit card usage than regular businesses, and they will have exorbitant monthly fees that are tied to long-term contracts, he said.

“I’m surprised your first-born child isn’t somewhere promised in these contracts,” Redman said. Redman also questioned the privacy concerns of having cameras filming passengers.

Board member Nolan Rollins said airport officials need to investigate claims that there is a priority system for equipment installation. Board member Doug Evans questioned just how severe the equipment shortage is for drivers. Aviation director Iftikhar Ahmad did note that drivers who have a purchase agreement will have an extended amount of time to install the equipment, which makes availability less of an issue.

“The issue of availability will become moot if you have that contract,” Ahmad said. The board did not make any changes to the rules Krygowski presented.