Kenner’s taxi rule changes makes overhaul metro-wide

With last week’s approval of new taxi cab guidelines in Kenner, all of the local areas with significant taxi populations have finished overhauls of their rules, and the new standards create some significant differences for drivers depending on where they operate.

The Kenner City Council unanimously approved the new rules after years of discussions, debates and even threats. While the council did not lift its moratorium on new taxicab licenses, it did set guidelines for lifting that ban in the future. New Orleans and unincorporated Jefferson Parish also set new guidelines recently, while St. Charles Parish is still working on revamping its rules.

While the rules in the different regions contain some similarities, such as restrictions on where companies must be domiciled to secure a license, where taxis can pick up fares and the total number of taxis allowed, there are also serious deviations.

For example, while Kenner and New Orleans both require credit card machines within taxis, unincorporated Jefferson Parish does not. And while New Orleans drivers must have security cameras and two-way radios, cabs in Kenner and Jefferson Parish escape that provision. In fact, Jefferson Parish mandates the fewest requirements for its drivers, although many of them must still meet some of those rules to pick up fares at Louis Armstrong International Airport based on that facility’s rules, noted Tiffany Scott Wilken, the parish director of inspection and code enforcement.

Kenner Councilman Kent Denapolis served on the committee that developed the new guidelines, and he said the goal was to update rules that hadn’t been seriously looked at since 1971. Although Kenner began the changes in 2010, efforts increased when New Orleans started its revamping last year and several companies considered moving to Kenner, Denapolis said. Now the city has rules that make sense for its drivers and its city, he said.

“It really tightens up on a lot of the laws that are out there that we have,” Denapolis said. “Basically what it is, is just an overhauling.”

Like New Orleans and Jefferson, Kenner will not allow cabs from other areas to pick up fares in the city. In addition, Kenner has made its licenses non-transferable, and only those companies domiciled in Kenner can obtain more than one license. The city also set its age limit on taxis at nine years instead of the seven years favored by New Orleans.

One of the goals of Kenner’s guidelines, just like those in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish is to set a hard cap on how many taxis are operating legally in the metropolitan area, said Tamithia Shaw, Kenner’s director of code enforcement and inspection.

Kenner would like to eventually limit itself to 300 licenses because that will make the business more profitable and make it easier to manage. New Orleans has a cap at about 1,600 licenses, while Jefferson Parish limits itself to 304.

Shaw stressed that the quota isn’t about limiting competition but about creating a manageable number of taxis for each area. However, she did note that Orlando, Fla., which has tons of tourist attractions, has only a fraction of the taxicabs found in the metropolitan area.

“This, overall, allowed us to change the laws that needed to be changed,” Shaw told the council.

The new guidelines are an outgrowth of attempts by New Orleans officials and the airport to regulate the general appearance of taxis. Several taxi companies explored the idea of securing licenses in surrounding areas, and that led to a revamping of existing rules that were typically outdated. Jefferson Parish created it review committee in 2011, and the group met 31 times to develop the changes.

Kenner officials have said that immediately after New Orleans announced its plans, one company requested enough licenses to double the number of licensed cabs in the city. In St. Charles Parish, after years of having only one licensed taxi driver, the parish saw more than a dozen requests for permits, said Renee Simpson, a spokeswoman for the parish.

Simpson said St. Charles had very few rules for taxis and had to establish a moratorium similar to Kenner’s to get the time to look at its rules. Now that Kenner and Jefferson Parish are finished with their reviews, she expects the parish will finish creating its guidelines.

In Kenner, the city is considering the possibility of creating a new booklet that would be handed out to all new taxi drivers to explain the rules and their responsibilities.