Airport delays cab change

The New Orleans Aviation Board decided to extend the deadline for taxi drivers to make mandated changes to their cabs in order to pick up fares at the airport, a move that should avert a brewing showdown with the city of Kenner.

Initially, airport officials had mandated that all taxi drivers comply with new rules requiring credit card machines, GPS systems and surveillance cameras by Dec. 31 in order to continue picking up passengers at the airport. The new rules mirrored guidelines adopted by the city of New Orleans for its cab drivers.

However, the deadline angered several Kenner politicians and taxi drivers, who claimed they were being pushed out of the airport. Kenner drivers and politicians said that New Orleans cabs were being given preferential treatment when it came to the installation of equipment by the few companies that do the work. That meant that Kenner taxis were being squeezed out and were likely going to be removed from the airport, which is a serious money-maker for drivers. In addition, it could have cut Kenner drivers out of lucrative Super Bowl related fares in February.

In delaying the deadline, airport officials cited the dearth of companies available to install the equipment as the impetus behind the extension. The extension will apply to all cabs, not just those in Kenner.

The decision comes as rhetoric from Kenner regarding the deadline was ramping up. Council members Maria Defrancesch and Kent Denapolis had been the most outspoken critics of the deadline, and Denapolis had recently discussed ways of making the airport extend its deadline. One solution was to slow down Kenner’s approval of some of the airport’s ongoing construction projects so that they would not be completed in time for the Super Bowl.

In fact, Defrancesch and Denapolis were planning to introduce an ordinance on Thursday that would have forced every cab that came to the airport to abide by Kenner’s taxi cab regulations, including licensing. That could have brought taxi service at the airport to a halt as New Orleans and St. Charles taxis scrambled to comply.

Defrancesch said that with the extension, Kenner no longer needs to use that resolution and it would be withdrawn from consideration. She said the city just wanted the airport to take its concerns seriously, and now that has happened.

“To be honest with you, that (resolution) was to force their hand,” Defrancesch said. “We are willing and hopeful to work with them.”

She said no new deadline has been set for cabs to abide by the airport’s rules, and Kenner officials will continue to have discussions with airport officials. Kenner is actually considering similar rules to those adopted by New Orleans and the airport for its cabs and will likely make a decision on that next year.

“We’re hoping that we can work together for the common good,” Defrancesch said. “We don’t want to play the game of who blinks first.”

Airport officials have largely tried to stay out of the dispute, saying that were willing to work with Kenner as long as necessary. Kenner Mayor Michael Yenni praised the airport and New Orleans officials in a press release Thursday afternoon.

“On behalf of Kenner’s cab drivers, I want to thank Mayor Mitch Landrieu, his administration, and the New Orleans Aviation Board for responding to our requests for more time,” Yenni wrote. “It would have been challenging for a majority of the drivers in Kenner to meet a Dec. 31 deadline.”

Airport officials will discuss the best way to implement the new rules over the next few weeks and present some recommendations at the board’s January meeting. Kenner taxi drivers have actually formed a coalition to represent their interests, because unlike most cabs in New Orleans, Kenner cabs are operated by individuals entities.

John W. Redmann, a lawyer representing the Airport Taxicab Drivers, said in a press release that improvements can be made “without breaking the bank’; and that independent cab drivers believe airport and civic leaders want the same thing.

Redmann and the cab drivers attended an Aviation Board meeting to support extending the Dec. 31 deadline. Redmann said in the news release that preventing drivers from working during the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras would have a catastrophic financial impact.