Archive for August, 2010

Gumbo for the Gulf

The oil disaster in the Gulf is a national tragedy. But here’s a chance to do something about it—right in your own kitchen.

Invite your friends over for a Gumbo for the Gulf party. Gumbo for the Gulf is a chance for us to come together to build awareness about the oil spill, raise funds for Gulf families and our ongoing work, and enjoy great food with friends.

Here’s how it works:

When you sign up here to host a Gumbo for the Gulf party, we’ll send you everything you need—recipes from New Orleans chefs John Besh and Susan Spicer, and information about the Gulf disaster and ways to get involved.

Ask your friends to chip in with a contribution to respond to the tragedy in the Gulf. Half of the contribution will go to helping Gulf families, to make sure they get immediate aid and that their voices are heard in Washington, D.C. The other half will help fund our ongoing work to make sure a disaster like this never happens again.


Firm is chosen to complete Lafitte corridor revitalization

Firm is chosen to complete Lafitte corridor revitalization

Published: Sunday, August 15, 2010, 11:30 PM

After receiving a city contract to revitalize the former railway known as the Lafitte corridor into a public park and greenway, only to have the contract terminated several months later, a Texas design firm has been selected once again to complete the long-awaited project.

Lafitte CorridorTimes-Picayune archiveThe greenway project promises to turn a 3.1-mile strip of city-owned land, extending from the French Quarter to Lakeview, into a public park and transportation corridor for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The contract, awarded Aug. 9 to the Austin-based Design Workshop, was the first professional-services contract granted under the Landrieu administration’s new selection process, which aims for greater transparency and public accountability.

“We were quite frustrated with the delay that this project has encountered over the past year, and we’re excited that finally we’re making progress on this again,” said Bart Everson, president of the advocacy group Friends of Lafitte Corridor, which formed in 2006. “Now, the work will hopefully begin soon.”

The greenway project promises to turn a 3.1-mile strip of city-owned land, extending from the French Quarter to Lakeview, into a public park and transportation corridor for pedestrians and bicyclists. The project has had strong public support for years, with the idea going back to the 1970s, Everson said.

In 2009 the project was awarded $11.9 million in federal Community Development Block Grant money. Former Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration inked a contract with Design Workshop in November, but terminated it soon after under scrutiny from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which was investigating all city contracts using block grant money.

Greenway supporters feared the project could be delayed for a year or more as City Hall changed administrations, but Mayor Mitch Landrieu, one week after taking office, pledged to see the project through.

Though Landrieu’s selection process resulted in the same vendor being picked — Design Workshop — there was more transparency this time, Everson said.

“It was really interesting to me to see the process,” Everson said. “I was able to come to the meeting and observe as they actually made the selection. The committee had a big stack of proposals.

They evaluated them; they discussed the criteria they were using … they evaluated all the proposals into a matrix, tallied up all the scores and came up with a clear winner.

“The first time around, when the previous administration awarded this contract for the first time, it was a closed process. It was a black box. We didn’t know what was going on. We had to rely on rumor and gossip to figure out what was happening at City Hall.”

“We have a lot of confidence in Design Workshop, having met with them last year and talked to them extensively,” Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said. “We’re thrilled that this is moving forward full steam ahead.”

Design Workshop is in negotiations with City Hall to finalize the details of the contract, but principal architect Steven Spears said the process was running “much more smoothly” than last time and that “hopefully we should have a formal contract ready for the mayor’s approval soon.”

“Life goes in circles sometimes,” Spears said. “We were very excited to be reselected for such an amazing project. Especially timing-wise, with the fifth anniversary of the storm coming up, we hope this project can bring rebirth to the city.”

Molly Reid can be reached at or 504.826.3448.

Smelly, battered cab would scare visitors away: A letter to the editor

Published: Monday, August 16, 2010, 1:40 AM

Letters to the Editor

I took an embarrassing and mortifying cab ride from the airport in mid-June. Compared with other cities, some of the cabs servicing Louis Armstrong International Airport are an abomination. To my sister and me, who had been traveling for 18 hours, the cab looked OK from the outside. But inside, it was filthy, smelled terrible, had duct tape on all the arm rests and had no air-conditioning (there was a clip-on fan up front that had an electrical adapter sitting on the front seat). The driver was eating something out of a cup and throwing the leftovers onto the cab floor. 2 0 0Share I had to call three entities before finding the correct organization to which I could complain about this situation: the City of New Orleans Taxicab Bureau, the cab company and then Landside Operations at Louis Armstrong Airport. The cabs servicing the airport represent the first impression that many visitors encounter upon arriving in our wonderful city. If I were a visitor, I would certainly wonder if I were in a Third World country, rather than in one of the greatest cities anywhere. Visitors do not think of a particular cab company or Landside Operations when riding in such a car. They think of the city of New Orleans. And this cab did not make a good impression, I assure you. This taxicab and any others like it should not be picking up any customers, except perhaps representatives from the cab company that operates it, the airport or the taxicab bureau. While New Orleans has many complex problems, this one could easily be remedied. With standards that should already be in place and proper enforcement, all our cabs would welcome visitors, rather than scare them away.

Delia O. Armand


GTC NOLA in City Business!

Tourism chief wants newer, greener cabs; industry insists it’s too expensive

POSTED: 03:31 PM Wednesday, August 4, 2010
BY: Richard A. Webster, Staff Writer
TAGS: Alan Fisher, Green Taxi Co., Ike Spears, London Livery, Mitch Landrieu, National Customer Advisory Council, New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, Stephen Perry

Alan Fisher wants to create New Orleans’ first “green” cab company and in the process expose what he sees as the glaring weaknesses of the city’s existing taxi industry — unprofessional drivers operating broken down vehicles lacking the modern technology commonplace in every major city.

One of the main problems Fisher wants to address is the quality of the city’s cabs. All of Green Taxi Co.’s cars will be new and taken off the road after five years of service, an unheard of policy in the Big Easy, Fisher said.

New Orleans is one of the only major U.S. cities that doesn’t place a limit on the number of years a taxi can operate. City license records indicate there are cabs as old as 30 years operating in New Orleans.

Chicago law requires that cabs be put out of commission after four years. Five years is the limit in Las Vegas, Dallas and Minneapolis, and six years in Houston and Boston.

The National Customer Advisory Council brought the issue to the attention of Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, several years ago.

“They told us as customers who bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the city that we had not only a less-than-acceptable but a relatively poor overall taxi system compared with most of our major competitive set,” Perry said.

Once Mayor Mitch Landrieu gets settled, Perry said he plans to push for uniform standards within the local taxi industry including age limits on vehicles and mandatory driver training to ensure they are educated on the history, culture and attractions of the city.

“We need to raise the standards like we’ve done at the convention center, hotels, restaurants and airport,” Perry said. “We can’t have the entirety of the tourism industry moving forward and this one component in terms of taxis standing still.”

Attorney Ike Spears, who represents several of the city’s cab lines, rejects the idea of vehicle age limits. He says it’s economically unfeasible to demand drivers buy a new car every five years.

“People want our industry to look like San Francisco and New York,” Spears said. “Well, pay us what New York and San Francisco pay their drivers.”

Despite Spears’ assertions, initial fare charges and per-mile rates are comparable among New Orleans, New York and San Francisco, though vehicle leasing fees and gasoline surcharges may differ.

Spears doesn’t deny the taxi cab industry could be improved but is adamant it can’t be done by outsiders legislating changes.

“I don’t think they fully understand the nuts and bolts of what the taxi cab drivers go through on a day-to-day basis to try and make ends meet,” he said. “It’s a low-margin game. Most of these guys are self-employed trying to support themselves and their families.

“Everyone wants the industry to be better and more reflective of a positive experience for the tourists. But everybody also wants to be able to make a living to go home and support their families at the end of the day.”

As for the need for a green cab company, Spears doesn’t see it.

“I don’t think the guy catching a taxi cab from work to home is looking to see if the car is green or the company is green,” he said.

The Green Taxi Co. would consist of a fleet of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles. The fleet would average 35 miles per gallon compared with 15 mpg for standard cabs and save an estimated $2 million in fuel costs annually, said Fisher, former owner of London Livery, a 25-year-old limousine service destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

The drivers, called “ambassadors,” would be trained according to London taxi system standards, which Fisher calls the “best and most professional in the world.”

Perry said one of the most frequent questions he fields from convention planners determining whether they want to come to the city is what type of green initiatives are in place.

“I can’t tell you what a huge selling plus it is,” he said. “Right now they’re giving New Orleans a little bit of grace because of Katrina. But it’s a real weakness and one we hope to address soon.”

Fisher is trying to do his part and said he has enough investors lined up to have his vehicles on the road by early 2011. But nearly all of the city’s 1,640 taxi licenses have been distributed. To purchase an existing permit, Fisher would have to pay up to $30,000.

He plans to petition the City Council to increase the number of taxi licenses or create a separate category for “green” taxis, two moves the cab industry is vehemently against.

But Fisher has Perry firmly in his corner, and the city’s top tourism official says the time is now to move the industry into a more environmentally conscious and innovative direction.

“There’s no question this will be a hard issue to resolve and it will be politically sensitive,” Perry said. “But we all need to come to the table and create a master plan and a target date. It cannot be overestimated what a powerful line of ambassadors taxi drivers can be either for the good or negative.”•