Taxi dispute heats up

Kenner politicians’ feud with the Louis Armstrong International Airport over new taxi guidelines is heating up, and now one politician has even floated the idea of the city slowing down some of the airport’s ongoing construction projects needed for February’s Super Bowl.

The dispute is based on the airport’s Dec. 31 deadline for taxi drivers to comply with new rules requiring credit card machines, GPS systems and other equipment. Drivers must have the equipment to collect fares at the airport. Kenner officials said last month that the deadline was too early, particularly since many of the companies that install the equipment are booked solid handling taxis belonging to New Orleans companies, who must comply with the same rules.

The council passed a resolution Thursday formalizing its opposition to the deadline. Council members Kent Denapolis and Maria Defrancesch have been the most vocal opponents of deadline, which both of them call blatantly unjust.

“It’s just totally and completely unfair,” Denapolis said. “We cannot realize this deadline.”

But Denapolis took things a step further Thursday after noting that airport officials have been particularly unhelpful in trying to reach a compromise. He complained that the airport’s chief operating officer Walter J. Krygowski even said that he didn’t have Denapolis’ telephone number. Denapolis theorized that maybe the city needs to do more to get the airport’s attention.

One way to do that would be to stop making city inspectors available after hours and on weekends to help the airport’s construction projects meet their rapidly approaching deadlines, he said. The airport is building a new rental car facility, making improvements to its terminals and repaving its main access road.

“Maybe we don’t inspect the airport, and we take our time like we do everywhere else,” Denapolis said. “I think they need to wait on us and allow us to get our taxicabs on our schedule.”

Airport Deputy Director Michelle Wilcut said the airport plans to continue to work on the issue with Kenner.

“Kenner is part of the community we serve and part of our airport team. We have been discussing the taxi issue with Kenner leadership for some time now and will continue to do so,” Wilcut wrote in a statement.

Taxi drivers packed the council’s chambers Thursday to express their support for the deadline extension but also to complain about the new rules in general. Just like their New Orleans counterparts, Kenner’s roughly 400 cab drivers view the rule changes as unnecessary and hasty. They also complain that New Orleans taxis are receiving preferential treatment when it comes to the installation of new equipment.

Code Enforcement Director Tamithia Shaw said an official from the New Orleans Taxicab bureau provided a list of six companies that can provide the equipment. However, Denapolis said some of those companies are owned by other cab companies, and one of them claimed to have a waiting list of 400 vehicles.

Defrancesch said that it seems like airport officials didn’t intend for the Kenner’s mainly independent taxis to be able to comply with the new rules because everything seems skewed toward the big New Orleans companies. She said the deadline needs to be changed immediately, and the city will continue to fight for cab drivers.

“You wonder about the sincerity of the people involved in New Orleans,” Defrancesch said. “We feel that it is our obligation to support you, the people of Kenner.”