Kenner extends taxi-license ban

The city of Kenner’s ban on new taxicab licenses will be extended for at least two more weeks while officials iron out the last few details of the city’s new guidelines for the vehicles.

Kenner City Councilman Kent Denapolis said he doesn’t expect the council to end its two-year moratorium until mid-April so every council member can have enough time to get familiar with the rules being proposed for the vehicles.

Denapolis serves on the council’s taxicab committee along with board members Maria Defrancesch and Gregory Carroll. That committee has been working on the guidelines since 2011 with Tamithia Shaw, the city’s director of inspections and code enforcement.

“It’s a lot of changes,” Denapolis said about the ordinance. “I want to make sure all the council is aware of it.”

Although the dispute between New Orleans cab drivers and officials has garnered most of the recent headlines, Kenner officials have been working on revamping their own rules as well. Denapolis said the city will incorporate some of New Orleans’ guidelines into its rules but will tweak them to make them slightly more palatable. The biggest issue has been deciding what guidelines cab drivers will have to use to collect fares from the Louis Armstrong International Airport, which also adopted its own rules earlier this year.

Denapolis said Kenner officials are proposing that drivers who want to make trips into New Orleans, or work the “long line,” will have to abide by that city’s guidelines, even if their business is based in Kenner. However, those drivers who don’t want to go into New Orleans, and work the short line, will only be responsible for Kenner’s rules. Ultimately, taxi drivers will have to determine what fits their business model, Denapolis said.

“It makes it a decision on their end for how they want to operate their business,” he said.

However, Defrancesch said Kenner is negotiating with New Orleans officials to try to figure out a way for Kenner taxis to make trips into the city during major events. She noted that there are not enough New Orleans cabs to handle all visitors, particularly not those staying at Jefferson Parish hotels. There should be a baseline for when the rules regarding entry into New Orleans are relaxed because ultimately the goal is making sure visitors to New Orleans have the very best experience, he said.

“That’s the kind of thing that we’re trying to negotiate because it’s a win/win for both sides,” Defrancesch said.

Even after the ordinance is adopted, Kenner will maintain its freeze on new licenses until the city reaches about 300 taxicab licenses through attrition, Denapolis said. Right now, Kenner has about 308 active licenses, and city officials feel 300 is a manageable figure.

Under the new guidelines, taxi drivers will be required to accept credit cards, but they will not be limited to using the same companies approved by New Orleans. They will need to have GPS in their vehicles, but will not be required to have two-way radios like New Orleans cabs, Denapolis said. He noted that most of Kenner’s cabs are operated by independent sole proprietors, unlike in New Orleans where several large companies dominate the industry.

Kenner will adopt one of the most controversial guidelines from New Orleans, which is a mandate that cabs may only be used for a limited number of years before a new vehicle must be purchased. In New Orleans, that time limit will eventually be seven years, but Denapolis plans to allow nine to 11 years of use. He said the goal is to ensure that people who ride Kenner’s cabs remember the experience fondly.

“We want to make sure that the traveling public enjoys the experience of having to use a Kenner cab,” he said.

Defrancesch said Kenner will require video cameras in vehicles but will not adopt all of the same guidelines for those cameras that New Orleans adopted. In addition, cab drivers must install silent alarms in their cars, she said.

Kenner initially began looking at its rules out of a fear that the city would be swamped by taxi drivers fleeing the new guidelines in New Orleans, Denapolis said. There was an initial spike in interest, but that eventually dissipated. Kenner officials also were embroiled in a dispute with the airport early this year because there were concerns that Kenner drivers were being locked out of making equipment changes needed to collect fares during the Super Bowl.

Kenner charges $100 for an annual license along with $20 in inspections fees.