More than 100 local cab drivers joined a spontaneous protest at the New Orleans airport Friday as a Kenner vehicle inspector began writing citations for taxi drivers who did not have Kenner permits.
As the crowd of irate cabbies grew, several Kenner police officers arrived to keep the peace as the Kenner vehicle inspector packed up and left the scene.
The cab drivers said they were protesting what they believe is an unfair double fee, arguing that they already pay for a permit from the City of New Orleans, owner of Louis Armstrong International Airport.
“He (the inspector) asked us to leave the lot if we do not have the 2018 sticker. And we retaliated, decided we are not going to leave,” said Nesly Rodrigue of Big Easy Cab Co.
Another driver, Ulrick Jean of American Cab Co., said the drivers spontaneously decided to stand in solidarity while parked at the Lot C, known as the “Cell Phone Lot,” as the inspector tried to write citations.
Lot C is where cabbies wait to be dispatched across the street to pick up airport passengers.
“We came to work,” Jean said. “We already paid $210 to the City of New Orleans. The airport is owned by the City of New Orleans. We don’t operate in Kenner.
But Kenner officials say their additional $250 permit fee is required of any vehicle-for-hire that operates within Kenner city limits, including the airport.
As the local cab companies struggle with competition from Uber and Lyft, they rely more heavily on airport runs to stay in business. The drivers have long contended that the app-based ride-share services have an unfair advantage because they aren’t required to obtain the same permits and licenses as for-hire cabs.
Kenner started enforcing its own permit requirement last year, the drivers said, but many refused to pay.
“This is unfair. This is injustice. They can't do that. If we already paid our money, we're supposed to be able to work.” Jean said.
Kenner said its inspector wrote three citations Friday before the protests forced him to leave. The city said it has a policy of issuing warnings before a citation is written, something the drivers said didn’t happen.
A Kenner spokesman said that according to the city’s ordinance, drivers can pay $250 for an individual annual permit, or a cab company can pay $10,000 for an entire fleet.