Airport cab plan hits hurdle; Competition rule thwarts lone bid

The push to merge myriad taxicabs under one umbrella company to serve New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport will have to wait a while longer, the airport's Aviation Board ruled Friday.

Citing a city rule to encourage competition, the board rejected the one proposal it received in July from Dulles Airport Taxi Inc., a Falls Church, Va., company that specializes in managing airport taxi services.

The airport has sought to consolidate its fleet of independent taxicabs since June to provide what officials say would be a cleaner, more efficient taxi service for tourists and businesspeople. The board's action Friday should not be interpreted as a scuttling of that plan, said airport Director Sean Hunter.

"It's a badly needed customer service here at the airport," he said.

Officials said the airport's staff would review its proposal request and make changes to entice more bidders. It remained unclear Friday what edits were being considered, said Courtney Thornton, the airport's legal counsel.

Under the airport's current offer, an overseer would bring a host of regulations to merge the fleet. In exchange for access to arriving passengers, taxi drivers would have to wear uniforms, their cars would all have to be the same color and have working air-conditioning, among other stipulations.

Only a handful of airports, such as those in Columbus, Ohio, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Dulles Airport in Virginia, have consolidated their taxi stands under similar rules.

The effort has not been without contention. Taxi drivers who frequent the fenced cab stand near the arrival gates have protested the consolidation move as a predatory method by the airport to take away their business.

Meanwhile, the board did approve the return of the airport's contracted limousine service, defunct since Hurricane Katrina, which should start by Jan. 1.

The board's dismissal of the taxicab bid came at no fault of Dulles Airport Taxi's offer, airport officials said. Rather, city rules demand every attempt be made to entice at least three proposals for every municipal proposal request.

"We never even analyzed the bid that was given," Hunter said.

Dulles Airport Taxi President Farouq Massoud said he had been prodding the city for more than a decade to consolidate its airport taxi services. Describing taxis as the first impression for travelers to any city, he said the rejection of his bid Friday would not prevent him from continuing to pursue the contract.

"Competition is the name of the game in America," Massoud said.