Terrebonne takes additional step to ride sharing services

Terrebonne Parish could move one step closer to bringing high-tech transportation options to its residents.

The parish council’s Policy, Procedure and Legal Committee agreed to bring to a public hearing amendments which would allow and regulate ride-sharing services, like Uber and Lyft, in Terrebonne. The amendments should be heard at the council’s next meeting on Sept. 21.

The parish’s planning and zoning department, as well as its legal department, have been working together with Uber representatives on drafting the ordinance since March. Terrebonne Parish Planning and Zoning Director Chris Pulaski said the parish’s ordinances are based on the state’s own recent ordinances regarding transportation networks like Uber. According to Pulaski, the transportation network ordinances would be very similar to those regarding taxicabs.

If the ordinance is approved, Uber would then need to apply for and receive approval from the council for a certificate of public convenience and necessity to operate in the parish. Anyone wishing to drive for Uber in Terrebonne would then need to get a driver’s permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles, although some Terrebonne residents who drive for Uber in New Orleans already have their permits.

Pulaski said Terrebonne Parish administration generally feels bringing ride-sharing to the area would benefit Terrebonne residents by providing additional transportation options with more advanced, user-friendly technology, as the services are primarily accessed through a smartphone app.

“By and large, administration feels it’s a great asset, a great service for our community. It’s something that we need to make sure we’re on the proactive rather than trying to be reactive. We want to allow for such services, but we want to make sure they’re being done in the best interest of the public,” Pulaski said.

Pulaski said Uber has been the only ride-sharing service he has worked with bringing to Terrebonne but said he expects Lyft to follow suit soon enough if the ordinance does indeed pass.

“I haven’t been contacted by [Lyft], but I would imagine in today’s competitive market, where one goes, the other follows. If you want to find a CVS, the first place you look for is a Walgreen’s,” Pulaski said.

The Terrebonne Economic Development Authority also supports ride-sharing services joining the fold. TEDA’s board passed a resolution supporting Uber’s entrance to the market on Dec. 8, 2015. That vote had a narrow 4-3 margin, though.

TEDA Chief Executive Officer Matt Rookard, who came to TEDA after the board’s vote on the resolution, said the pro-competition, pro-free market authority supports Uber’s entrance as a boost to competition in the local transportation industry.

“Transportation issues are always in the forefront of workforce and getting people from point A to point B, and I think getting more competition there is always better. So, both personally and professionally, if the parish can make it work within reasonable guidelines, I think it’s a win-win,” Rookard said.

Rookard said he thinks bringing in a fairly new, high-tech service to Terrebonne could improve brand recognition of the area overall.

“I don’t know that having an Uber operate in the market will necessarily bring other technology companies in and of itself, but I think it signals that we are a more progressive market than maybe people perceive us as, and maybe a bigger market than people perceive us as outside of South Louisiana,” Rookard said.

However, ride-sharing services have faced pushback from certain stakeholders as they have increased their reach in other parts of the country. Complaints come from taxicab companies alleging the service could push them out of business, which included local cab companies in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes voicing their displeasure with Uber’s introduction. Other complaints include those worried about labor issues, as Uber treats its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, thus limiting collective bargaining power.

Rookard said he has not heard any complaints from either Tommy’s Cab or Pitre’s Cab, the two taxi companies in Terrebonne Parish, about the push for ride-sharing services. Calls to the owners of each company were not returned by press time. But Marlene Shackleford, a dispatcher at Tommy’s, said she has not detected major opposition to an Uber debut at her company.

“We’re thinking it’s fine so long as they are working within the rules. But we don’t think they’re going to make it. Customers here are very particular about price,” Shackleford said.

Local companies like Tommy’s base their fares on zones, rather than actual time spent in the cab or mileage. A fare is agreed to before an Uber customer accepts the ride, although Uber sometimes has “surge” pricing, where fares are multiplied due to high demand.

If implemented soon enough, the ride-sharing apps could come particularly in handy during local music festivals. Tommy Lyons, who is on the board for the Voice of the Wetlands Festival scheduled for Oct. 7-9, said having the services available would make arrivals and departures much smoother at the festival. He said he sees Uber as filling a niche in the wider transportation market that includes the parish bus service and taxi industry.

“I would feel really good knowing there was an active Uber contingent to service the needs of our festival, especially with our new location and especially that we have some later night activities. You know, the music’s going to go on pretty late. Having Uber there would be wonderful,” Lyons said. •

Uber in Terrebonne?