Jan 312014

With the co-owner of a cab company one of the candidates in the race, it should come as little surprise perhaps that there are diverging opinions among the contenders for the District A seat on the City Council about the city’s controversial new regulations on the taxi industry.

The issue rose to the forefront in a forum before Carrollton neighborhood leaders on Friday evening — less than 12 hours before the polls were to open — but served as a last minute reminder of just how different the approaches each of the candidates have.

Incumbent City Councilwoman Susan Guidry (center) is facing challenges from (clockwise from top left) David Capasso, Jason Coleman, Stephen Gordon and Drew Ward. (photos by UptownMessenger.com)

Incumbent City Councilwoman Susan Guidry (center) is facing challenges from (clockwise from top left) David Capasso, Jason Coleman, Stephen Gordon and Drew Ward. (photos by UptownMessenger.com)

The question posed by moderator Charles Maldonado, a reporter for The Lens, midway through the Carrollton Area Network’s candidates’ forum was fairly simple: do you support the recent reforms of the taxicab system? The laws passed in 2012 require cabs to have security cameras, GPS and credit card machines, and for the vehicles to be less than seven years old, but they have been overshadowed recently by complaints against the leadership of the Taxi Bureau.

Jason Coleman of the Coleman Cab Company was the first to take the question, and started with a quip: “I think I need more than a minute.” He blasted the law as one of the biggest industry reforms in the country coming down in a single day, and said the new requirements represent an expensive new mandate that is forcing some drivers out of business. Particularly onerous is the age limit on vehicles, Coleman said, arguing that their condition should be the determining factor in when they are replaced.

“What we did was, we put people out of work,” Coleman said. “The elderly folks that work could not get loans. … We took our ambassadors of New Orleans out of their jobs.”

The laws were passed without any new ways of allowing drivers to increase their own revenue to make up for the new expenses, Coleman said. Ultimately, they need to be reviewed, line by line, he said.

“I will not let them go down without a fight,” he said.

After a brief aside referring to the previous night’s theft of his campaign signs, Carrollton neighborhood activist Drew Ward agreed about the age limit, noting that the average age of taxis in London is 15 years. Part of Ward’s platform includes a complete restructuring of city government — putting all law-enforcement functions under an elected sheriff — and he called the taxi regulations “indicative of the problems we have with the way we run our government,” imposing new regulations from the top down without input from the drivers themselves.

“It’s in their best interest to self-regulate, because a single bad driver shows them all bad,” Ward said.

David Capasso, a labor-law attorney, focused instead on the alleged abuses of the Taxi Bureau. He criticized several City Hall staffers by name, said the scandals involving physical attacks are only “the tip of the iceberg,” and criticized Guidry for not taking a stronger stance against the problems.

“She’s not made one statement about how clearly dysfunctional this is,” Capasso said. “I’ve dealt with dozens and dozens of these cases, workers getting their permits stripped or revoked.”

His goal if elected, Capasso said, would be to get these workers and others around the city “to the table” to have a voice in determining how these issues are dealt with.

When the microphone reached Guidry, however, she vigorously defended the reforms, noting her membership for four years on the City Council transportation committee. They were crafted after years of public meetings with people from across the industry filling the council chambers, as well as numerous meetings with individual stakeholders, she said, and ultimately were long overdue.

“The reforms that you’ve seen go into place in the last four years are reforms that have needed to happen for decades and haven’t because the mayors and City Councils haven’t had the backbone to do them,” Guidry said. “Those reforms, I am very proud to be a part of.”

Now, she said, the city’s cabs have all the best equipment available to help keep riders safe.

“I’d like to know how many people are unhappy about that,” Guidry concluded.

Stephen Gordon, a Lakeview businessman, did not attend Friday’s forum.

The forum covered a number of other topics, such as the jail size, the proposal to move City Hall to the old Charity Hospital, and even the economic benefit of the Super Bowl. See our video above or read our live coverage below.

  • Drew Ward

    Thanks so much for covering this Robert!

    Did we lose the final portion of the video with audience questions and closing statements?