NEW ORLEANS - Right now, if need a ride in New Orleans, calling a cab is one of your only options. But a company called Uber is looking to change that.
The company partners with local companies and independent freelance drivers in an area. It runs an app that shows users the drivers in their area. The closest one will pick them up, and payment is automatically deducted from their credit card on file.
“We've for awhile now had a really popular outcry of demand here,” said Tom Hayes, general manager of Uber New Orleans. “There's been tens of thousands of people that have opened up the app in the New Orleans area, and that shows us that people want these options here.”
Uber offers a few options, including an upscale line of sedans called Uber Black. It’s currently in talks with the city administration to bring that option to New Orleans. The company would partner with drivers at existing limo companies.
But cab companies aren't happy with the idea. They say Uber Black could take away their higher-end customers.
“Right now the way a limo works is they operate by time. Now they want to change it to distance, so that way they operate the way a taxi does without the taxi regulation,” said Sheree Kerner, president of Nawlins Cab.
Uber says current regulations bar the company from operating in New Orleans.
The city administration supports changing regulations relating to luxury car services.
“One of the things we've tried to do is provide common sense middle ground solutions so we can have customers with more options adapt to the changing technology,” said Ryan Berni, adviser to Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Current law requires luxury cars to be reserved for at least three hours and sets a maximum hourly price.
Council-at-large Jason Williams and Councilman Jared Brossett, District D, co-authored legislation that would remove those requirements, so limo companies can charge customers based on time, distance and demand.
But Uber says the changes don’t go far enough because there would still be a minimum fare.
Cab companies also fear it could open the door to the Uber X option currently operating in some other cities, in which freelance drivers can pick up fares in their personal vehicles and don't need a commercial license.
Brossett has introduced legislation aimed at stopping that.
“We can't have unlicensed drivers flooding our city," hes aid. "We also cannot have unlicensed vehicles,” he said.
“We're really just empowering local entrepreneurs and local businesses through the use of our technology,” said Hayes.
Uber is currently focusing only on the Uber Black option for New Orleans, said Hayes.
The cab industry recently upgraded vehicles to keep up with new regulations, and Kerner believes it would be unfair for drivers to compete against those that don’t have to adhere to the same regulations.
By Wednesday night, nearly 1,800 people had signed an online petition to bring Uber to New Orleans.
The City Council will discuss proposed regulations at a transportation meeting later this month.