New Orleans council clears Uber, others to offer luxury online taxi service

Fri Sep 5, 2014 7:35am EDT

Limousine driver Shuki Zanna, 49, holds up his iPhone displaying transportation app Uber as he waits for customers in Beverly Hills, California, December 19, 2013.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Limousine driver Shuki Zanna, 49, holds up his iPhone displaying transportation app Uber as he waits for customers in Beverly Hills, California, December 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

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(Reuters) - New Orleans lawmakers cleared online for-hire car firms such as Uber on Thursday to offer luxury taxi-like services in the city, handing the fast-growing sector a partial legal victory.

Under the new ordinance, Uber will be allowed to provide its Uber Black service, which enables passengers to connect with drivers of luxury cars via a smartphone app.

The council did not vote on whether to authorize popular and less expensive ridesharing services like UberX and Lyft, which have been the focal point of legal challenges from taxi cab firms and regulators around the globe.

"We embraced technology and new ways of doing things," Jared Brossett, who chairs the council's transportation committee, said in a statement after the vote.

San Francisco-based Uber's smartphone software has helped it expand into roughly 150 cities around the world. Domestically, the service has been welcomed in some parts of the country, including New York and Seattle.

But Las Vegas has banned most app-based car ride services, while Uber and similar businesses have been sued by taxi companies hoping to keep them out of Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

In Germany earlier this week, a regional court in Frankfurt issued a temporary injunction against Uber, saying its drivers lacked the commercial licenses needed to pick up passengers.

Uber said it would appeal.

In June, taxi drivers protesting against what they consider Uber's threat to their livelihood mounted a go-slow in several European cities.

The New Orleans city council approved the measure by a vote of 4 to 3.

Council member Nadine Ramsey, who voted against, expressed concerns over public safety and consumer protection.

"The City Council previously implemented regulations that make owning and operating taxicabs very expensive and, at times, unaffordable. I believe these factors will systematically run taxicab drivers out of business," she added.

Those looking to schedule a high-end ride in the city through the new service will have to pay at least $15 for a luxury sedan, $25 for an SUV, and $45 for a limousine, according to the law.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; editing by John Stonestreet)

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