Kenner at odds with airport

Several Kenner officials are pushing for Louis Armstrong International Airport to extend its deadline for the city’s taxicabs to comply with new cab equipment guidelines because many of the companies that install the equipment are booked solid.

City Council members Kent Denapolis and Maria DeFrancesch are asking the city’s attorney to help draft a letter asking for more time for the city’s taxi drivers because the current Jan. 1 deadline for compliance would result in many drivers being put out of business. Earlier this month, the airport adopted similar rules to those enacted by the city of New Orleans regarding GPS, credit card machines and air conditioning in all cabs that pick up fares at the airport.

Denapolis and DeFrancesch serve on the city’s taxicab committee which has been working on revisions to the city’s rules for taxis for more than a year. That committee is considering some of the same rules adopted by New Orleans and the airport and plans to make a final decision on what guidelines to recommend next year.

Denapolis said he understands the need for new rules, but he complained Kenner’s drivers are being prevented from making the changes to their cabs because all of the available slots are being hogged by New Orleans companies. Denapolis said he’s spoken to two companies who told him that the earliest they would be able to install equipment in a Kenner cab would be late February.

“Our fleet of cabs in Kenner cannot meet the Dec. 31 deadline that has been set by the airport,” Denapolis said. Kenner has about 400 licensed cabs. “We understand your plight on this, and we’re going to be supportive.”

DeFrancesch said it appears that the airport enacted the rules without fully considering how they would be followed. Because New Orleans taxis are owned by a handful of companies, those companies have received preference from equipment companies. She said the situation is just unfair.

“When you come in with a whole group of people all from the same company, the meter company is going to put you one after another,” DeFrancesch said. “The time line needs to be expanded. It needs to be increased so they have a fair chance.”

The rules adopted by the airport and New Orleans have been largely panned by cab drivers, who have complained about their cost and the tightness of the deadlines. But city and airport officials say it’s important for the city to have a top-notch fleet of cabs, particularly as the region prepares for the Super Bowl in February. As a carrot, the airport abolished its rules about cabs having to return to the airport empty.

But that opened up another can of worms for some taxi drivers.

Anthony Pierce complained that it’s completely unfair that New Orleans drivers can now pick up and drop off fares in Kenner, while Kenner drivers can’t do the same. Pierce, who has been driving a taxi for 14 years, said Kenner needs to press New Orleans and the airport to allow all taxis to collect passengers everywhere.

New Orleans refuses to allow non-licensed cabs to pick up fares in the city, mainly because of the high cost of the city’s licenses, Council Chairwoman Michele Branigan said.

Regardless of where fares are collected, cab driver Oscar Marin said it’s crucial that he and other cab drivers get an extension on the new rules. If that extension doesn’t come, many of them will be ruined.

“Basically what’s going is that we’re being phased out at the airport,” he said. “We need time.”

Tamithia Shaw, the Kenner’s code enforcement director, said that the city is already talking with the airport about the deadline. She also said that the airport released the names of some additional companies who can make the equipment changes, and Kenner city will post those for cab drivers. Mayor Mike Yenni said discussions with the airport would only be aided by a council resolution.

Denapolis and Councilman Joe Stagni theorized that maybe Kenner needs to remind the airport that the facility still operates within the city’s boundaries.

Stagni noted that New Orleans taxis must pass through Kenner to get to the airport, and the city could create its own onerous rules if it wished.

“The airport is in Kenner, at least the last time I looked at a map,” Denapolis said.