For a city so reliant on tourism, the fact that New Orleans has yet to see a ride-share program is atrocious.
This past week, Uber announced that it was again working with the city to allow them to launch in New Orleans, though no timetable has been set. This comes months after it was reported that a high-ranking city official, Taxicab Bureau Director Malachi Hull, threatened the mobile application ride-share service with arrest and fines if they ever try to come to the city.
New Orleans is not the first city that has been hesitant toward ride-share programs. Other cities, including New York, Chicago and Seattle have forced the multi-billion dollar company to jump through hoops in order to service its customers. But New Orleans is the first to send a cease and desist letter to the company without the company actually operating in the state.
Though it makes sense that New Orleans, and particularly the taxi cab industry, would be weary of competition, the fact that a city official has taken such extreme measures to keep the company out of the city reflects poorly on a city that touts itself as a progressive business environment.
Furthermore, Uber claims that it does not directly compete with the taxi industry because it is a luxury cab service rather than a cab service. Unlike typical cabs, customers pay directly through the app, meaning that no money changes hands during the ride. Also, most Uber vehicles are black, unmarked cars that in no way resemble cabs and cannot be hailed on the street.
Above all else, though, Uber and other ride-share programs, such as Lyft, would keep the New Orleans cab industry on its toes. For years the city has been plagued by sub-par, unregulated transportation. By giving locals and tourists alike a viable alternative to one of the dozen-plus cab services in the city, these existing services would be forced to improve their overall quality.
Rather than having to wait for hours on end, competing with everyone around you to find a cab, Uber allows you to hail a car whenever you want, wherever you want, and track its progress via its app the whole way. Instead of worrying about your cab driver, with Uber you can learn about your driver, then rate your experience. And rather than paying a metered fare, Uber rates vary depending on demand, so you can get a ride regardless of if it’s Mardi Gras or in the heat of summer.
As of this week, Uber operates in nearly every major city in the United States and 35 countries around the world.
The company does not lack financing either. In 2013, Google ventures pumped over $150 million in funding into Uber. Goldman Saachs is also an investor. As of February, the company was valued at over $4 billion.
The longer that New Orleans hesitates to bring ride-sharing to New Orleans, the farther behind it will become in attracting permanent residents, tourists and even businesses.
As much as Uber tries to offer its services in New Orleans, though, it will remain unlikely until the public demand outweighs the private outcry. One online petition to let Uber into New Orleans has attracted more than 1,500 signatures.
Until then, good luck hailing a cab.