Uber battles with city council to open New Orleans operations

Kate Jamison, News Editor

Uber, a transportation network that connects riders with drivers through a smartphone application, has been fighting to establish a New Orleans presence. Protests from the city’s taxicab industry and a series of limiting City Council ordinances have met these efforts. 

Uber operates off of a modern smartphone application platform. Users download the app and create an account with Uber. The app locates users on a map and shows them a map of drivers in their area. The user can select a driver and speak with them directly. The fare from the ride can be paid directly through the app, which is linked to the user’s credit card information. The app has many advanced features, allowing users to see what their ride is going to cost and the route that the driver will take before they arrive at their destination.

Uber now runs in 94 U.S. cities and 44 countries. The company was founded in San Francisco in 2009. 

Uber started to run into walls before business could start in New Orleans. Uber received a cease and desist letter from Deputy Director Malachi Hull on behalf of the city of New Orleans in October 2013, before operations had begun.

The letter, addressed to Travis Kalanick, Uber Technologies Inc. CEO and co-founder, accused the company of operating illegally in New Orleans and violating city codes. 

“Your company, Uber Technologies, Inc. is operating unlicensed commercial transportation services in the City of New Orleans, which is a violation of the New Orleans City Codes,” the Oct. 10 letter states.

The New Orleans taxicab industry has protested the appearance of “hail-a-cab” apps in the city. Protesters argue that the apps operate largely unregulated and do not face the same heavy restrictions that the cab companies do.  

There has been some movement towards allowing Uber into the city, but with heavy restrictions. The City Council proposed an ordinance that would place minimum prices on all “hail-a-car” app rides like Uber and Lyft, a similar San Francisco-based transportation network. They have proposed a minimum $25 charge for sedan rides, a minimum $35 charge for SUV rides, a flat $75 charge for rides to the airport in a sedan or $90 in a SUV. Uber proponents argue that these minimum charges would effectively shut Uber out of its target market.

Significant online support has been shown for Uber in New Orleans. A petition on change.org titled, “Let UBER come to New Orleans,” had 2,454 signatures as of Thursday. The hashtag #NOLAneedsUBER gained traction on Twitter, with hundreds of tweets pouring in every hour. 

Sophomore Sarah Burn said she sees Uber as a necessity in New Orleans because of unreliable taxi companies. 

“New Orleans needs Uber,” Burn said. “One time I went to the movies and was stranded there for an hour after the movie ended because none of the taxi drivers felt like going all the way there to pick us up. New Orleans transportation is really inconvenient and slow which is especially bad considering how dangerous it is.”

Not all students, however, believe that Uber is beneficial for the city. Sophomore Sam Ergina, a former reporter for The Hullabaloo, said he has had negative experiences with the service in the past. 

“The [user’s] credit card is pre-attached to the account so if the pricing isn’t accurate, it can cause a huge problem,” Ergina said. “I know someone who was accidentally charged over $1000 for a 20-minute ride on Uber.”

A City Council meeting on July 22 to discuss the ordinances that apply to Uber was cancelled without any explanation. The meeting was rescheduled for Sept. 4.