Airport cab plan gets only one bite; Firm would manage, unify arriving taxis

Many drivers oppose New Orleans plan


Just one firm applied for a new contract that would overhaul the taxi operation at Louis Armstrong International Airport, but airport officials said the low response does not hinder their efforts to standardize taxi service, a move some cab drivers oppose.

By the close of the application period Monday afternoon, Dulles Airport Taxi Inc. of Falls Church, Va., was the only company to submit a proposal to manage taxis picking up travelers at the New Orleans airport.

The arrangement calls for taxicabs to be painted the same color and meet new standards of cleanliness, maintenance and the age of the vehicles. Drivers also would have to wear uniforms.

Airport Director Sean Hunter said the aim is to improve service for passengers and save about $2 million a year that the airport now spends on policing the assortment of independent drivers who serve the terminal. Some cabbies have said the changes would push many drivers out of business by saddling them with higher costs and fewer riders.

Hunter said the single response does not discourage him because only a few companies nationwide provide similar taxi management services.

"Given the number of companies that are out there, this is a representation of a third of them," Hunter said.

Hunter said the contract, which is limited to managing transportation from the airport, would attract more interest if it also offered control over trips to the airport, but that would require approval from a number of cities and parishes in the area.

He said the contract leaves it up to the management company to lobby New Orleans, Jefferson Parish and other jurisdictions for round-trip rights in the future.

Attempts to reach the president of Dulles Airport Taxi on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

An airport committee will review the proposal and report to the New Orleans Aviation Board, which could decide in August or September whether to select the firm or continue with the existing taxi system.

Aviation Board Member David Campbell said he would have liked more proposals but that he will study the lone response. Campbell is a proponent of handing over a standardized taxi system to a private firm.

"The cabs are the first impression people get" of the New Orleans area, Campbell said. "They need to be a branded kind of look. I think they need to be clean, operational, identifiable."

"Right now we need anything we can do to improve the airport to get back to pre-Katrina growth levels," he said.

Many drivers, however, said the new system threatens their livelihood.

"We're working with one hand right there," said driver Fidel Ardon, referring to the lack of round-trip approval, which under the new system will result in drivers returning to the airport with empty back seats. "I don't think it's fair."

Another driver, Smilja Sulejmanagic, said the system will force drivers to buy new vehicles to satisfy the color requirement and other standards, straining their finances.

"They want too much from us," she said.

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Mark Waller may be reached at mwaller@timespicayune.com or (504) 883-7056.

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