NEW ORLEANS -- In a clear victory for the Landrieu administration, a federal judge has ruled that the city is within its rights to impose a controversial package of reforms on taxi cabs.
In a ruling issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon denied an injunction to cab operators seeking to block new rules requiring upgrades such as credit card machines, GPS devices and the phase-out of old cabs.
The ruling appears to pave the way for the reforms, which have been on hold since Aug. 1 after a civil court judge issued a temporary restraining order.
"This is a win for the citizens of New Orleans, as well as the public, as well as the drivers. This is going to be a win for everyone," said Malachi Hull, director of the city's taxi cab bureau. "What these reforms did are they improved, drastically, they improved the public safety, as well driver safety while enhancing customer service, as well as efficiency for the city of New Orleans."
The cab drivers, pressing their claims in three related lawsuits, tried to argue that the cost of the upgrades would pose an unconstitutional hardship. But Fallon ruled that the reforms do not pose an undue burden on the drivers, with a cost closer to the $2,000-per-cab estimated by the city than the $25,000-per-cab estimated by the taxi industry.
Fallon also stated that the public benefits of the reforms outweigh the costs to cabbies.
“The Court finds that although Plaintiffs have shown some potential economic impact, even if it did occur, it is outweighed by the interest in promoting the health, safety, and welfare of the community,” he wrote.
The ruling wasn’t a complete victory for the city, however. Fallon ruled in favor of the cab drivers on the issue of whether taxi licenses – Certificates of Public Necessity and Convenience – are privileges that can be yanked by the city or property that comes with all the rights of ownership.
In ruling with the cab drivers that the CNPCs are property, Fallon issued a preliminary injunction that blocks the portion of the ordinance allowing the city to revoke a cab driver’s license for non-compliance with the new rules.
"Which is good because if the city wants the industry to be able to support buying a new vehicle and putting all the equipment in it, then the only wherewithal that they have to be able to do that is the CPNC," said Sheree Kerner, owner of Nawlins Cab. "So, now they're able to go to the bank with that and be able to finance what the city wants."
It was a fact pointed out by Judge Fallon as well: that the value of the CNPCs – which have been sold for as high as $50,000 – could benefit both sides since they could be used by cab drivers to help finance the city-mandated upgrades.
“The Court finds that it does not appear that a preliminary injunction would have an adverse effect on the public,” Fallon wrote. “In fact, here, the opposite is true; a preliminary injunction would have a beneficial effect. It would allow CPNC owners a mechanism to finance the upgrades called for by the City.”