If you’ve never attended a meeting held in the city council chambers regarding a hot button issue in New Orleans then you should. The experience is nothing short of theatrical even if it does make me want to pull out my hair.
A couple weeks ago I attended the city council transportation committee meeting discussing the entry of Uber into the New Orleans transportation market. For those unfamiliar, Uber is a company that provides infrastracture and an app to connect passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire. You use your phone to magically summon a car to your exact location….it’s like magic.
In the typical “it’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission” sense that startups are often known for Uber enters into new markets and begins operating regardless of what the local laws say in hopes that they can get them changed later. This understandably has been pissing off municipalities and cab companies across the world for the last four years. New Orleans is no different.
The cabbies showed up en masse at the meeting to protest the fact that Uber will be taking work away from them. They outnumbered Uber supporters by at least 3 to 1. The committee gives the public the opportunity to speak by filling out cards prior to the meeting. In typical fashion there were passionate testimonials from parties both pro and anti Uber.
Two notable speakers were Justin Kintz, Uber’s policy director for the Americas, and Malachi Hull who a month before had been the head of the city’s taxicab bureau but was fired and speaking at this meeting as a regular citizen. Mr. Kintz was an excellant orator who was able to answer the city councilmembers’ questions without actually answering them just like a slick politician (great hire Uber!). The main point of contention was the fact that Uber X is expected to follow soon after Uber’s limousines. Uber X is the service that’s basically viewed as unlicensed cabs and is what the cab drivers are afraid of.
Kintz was able to beat around the bush when one of the councilmembers repeatedly asked him about Uber X coming into the city. Malachi Hull, speaking as just a citizen of New Orleans after having been fired by the city, got up and made many bizarre statements…one of which was mentioning the instances in which terrorists in America were cab drivers. I couldn’t tell if he was for or against Uber. I imagined the collective facepalm of the city councilmembers when their former colleague got up and said some really weird shit.
One thing to note is that the city’s relationship with the cab drivers was already toxic before Uber ever came into town. Uber has just stirred the hornets nest by bringing another potential hardship upon the cabbies.
Even though I am pro Uber (I waited for three hours to speak for three minutes) going to these meetings and hearing directly from cab drivers really puts it into perspective. As much I want to be the typical millenial and say “Cabs suck / Technology yay / Competition is good / Over-regulation is bad!” I do definitely feel for the cabbies. They’re just average New Orleanians like me and want to protect their livelihood. I wonder how much of the resistance is a result of the cab unions and the people who actually own the cab companies telling the drivers what to do. Realistically many of these cab drivers will become Uber drivers anyway and get paid the same amout or more. The sole pro Uber cab driver got up and said he would have no problem painting his car black.
The transportation committee ultimately forwarded the motion to the full city council without any recommendations. The city council will decide on that today but it’s really just baby steps considering this measure only addresses Uber’s limousine service and not Uber X. I hope they pass it. I won’t be attending though because ain’t nobody got time for that.
In regards to the experience of attending this meeting (and others) I think the city could make several improvements for these meetings:
- Hold these meetings when the majority of constituents aren’t at work so they can attend.
- Let people know they should address something we haven’t heard already. Many speakers are just repeating the exact same issues and wasting everyone’s time. People leave before they get to speak because they have jobs to get back to.
- Citycouncilmembers shouldn’t waste our time by asking hollow questions that bring no real value to the discussion. Several times a city councilmember would say something just because they feel they needed to pipe up.
- Use technology to enhance the entire experience. It’s very old school up in there. I could write a whole post on just this.