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.”•

Global Warming “Undeniable,” U.S. Government Report Says

Main Content

The retreating Iceberg Glacier in Bernardo O'Higgins National  Park.

The retreating Iceberg Glacier in Chile’s Bernardo O’Higgins National Park (file).

Photograph by Maria Stenzel, National Geographic


Christine Dell’Amore

National Geographic News

Published July 28, 2010

Global warming is undeniable,” and it’s happening fast, a new U.S. government report says.

An in-depth analysis of ten climate indicators all point to a marked warming over the past three decades, with the most recent decade being the hottest on record, according to the latest of the U.S. National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s annual “State of the Climate” reports, which was released Wednesday. Reliable global climate record-keeping began in the 1880s.

The report focused on climate changes measured in 2009 in the context of newly available data on long-term developments.

(See “Heat Wave: 2010 to Be One of Hottest Years on Record.”) For instance, surface air temperatures recorded from more than 7,000 weather stations around the world over the past few decades confirm an “unmistakable upward trend,” the study says.

And for the first time, scientists put data from climate indicators—such as ocean temperature and sea-ice cover—together in one place. Their consistency “jumps off the page at you,” report co-author Derek Arndt said.

“This is like going to the doctor and getting your respiratory test and circulatory test and your neurosystem test,” said Arndt, head of the Climate Monitoring Branch of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

“It’s testing all the parts, and they’re all in agreement that the same thing’s going on.”

Global Warming Sparked Extreme Weather in 2009?

Three hundred scientists analyzed data on 37 climate indicators, but homed in on 10 that the study says are especially revealing.

Those indicators include:

  • humidity,
  • sea-surface temperature,
  • sea ice cover,
  • snow cover,
  • ocean heat content,
  • glacier cover,
  • air temperature in the lower atmosphere,
  • sea level,
  • temperature over land,
  • and temperature over oceans.

As scientists would predict in a hotter world, some of the indicators—such as ocean heat content and temperature over land—are increasing. Others, such as sea ice cover and snow cover, are decreasing.

The influx of greenhouses gases into the atmosphere has also hit oceans particularly hard, the NOAA report says. (See an interactive on the greenhouse effect and global warming.)

New evidence suggests that more than 90 percent of that heat trapped by greenhouses gases over the past 50 years has been absorbed into the oceans.

Because water expands as it warms, the added ocean heat is contributing to sea level rise as well as to the rapid melting of Arctic summer sea ice. That melting in 2010 is on track to be worse than 2007, when Arctic ice cover reached its lowest point on record.

Such climatic shifts are already ushering in extreme weather, which plagued much of the globe in 2009, according to the report. (See a world map of potential global warming impacts.) For instance, Australia experienced its third hottest year on record.

On one February 2009 day—labeled “Black Saturday”—in Australia, 400 wildfires swept across the state of Victoria, killing 173 people and destroying 3,500 buildings. (See pictures of the Australian fires.)

NOAA Climate Report Offers Real-World Data

The NOAA report—published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society—is different from other climate publications, because it’s based on observed data, not computer models, making it the “climate system’s annual scorecard,” the authors wrote. (Test your global warming knowledge.)

“It’s telling us what’s going on in the real world, rather than the imaginary world,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the Boulder, Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Even so, the report “does not carry the authority of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] by any means,” Trenberth noted.

That’s partially because IPCC reports—the latest of which came out in 2007 with a similar claim that warming is “unequivocal”—are produced on longer time scales, with more time for review.

And even with real-world data, “the theory with regard to global warming is still incomplete”—especially since the atmosphere is so complex, Trenberth cautioned.

This “can be seen at a glance,” for example, “by looking out of the window at the wondrous, great variety in clouds.”

Hybrid Taxis Give Fuel Economy a Lift

April 2009

Fleet Experiences

Hybrid Taxis Give Fuel Economy a Lift

Whole Foods received advertising rights for sponsoring Cambridge’s hybrid taxi

Hybrid Taxis Give Fuel Economy a Lift, Clean Cities, Fleet Experiences, April 2009 (Fact Sheet)

Most people recognize the classic yellow-and-black taxicab, but some taxis are adopting a new color—green. Clean Cities helped Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and San Antonio, Texas, create hybrid taxi programs that cut gasoline use and air pollution while pleasing drivers and passengers alike.

Better Mileage, Cleaner Air

Each year, taxis average 55,000 miles of driving. Most are Ford Crown Victorias, with a city fuel economy of about 16 miles per gallon (mpg). In contrast, the hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) most commonly used as taxis do much better: The Toyota Prius gets 48 mpg in the city, the Ford Escape 34 mpg, and the Toyota Camry 33 mpg. Boston CleanAir CABS founder John Moore estimates that switching the entire Boston fleet of 1,900 taxis to HEVs would save about 5 million gallons of gasoline annually. In addition, hybrid taxis reduce smog-forming and green­house gas emissions, as well as create a green image for a city. “Taxis and taxi drivers are often the first spaces and people visitors see when they come to a city,” says the Boston Environment Department’s Jim Hunt. “They can be your best ambassadors.”

Three Avenues to Success

In addition to an up to $3,000 federal tax credit that helps offset the incremental costs of a hybrid taxi, Boston’s CleanAir CABS program offers two major incentives for operators and owners to run hybrid taxis. HEV drivers get two “front of the line” passes for each airport shift, allowing them to fit in two extra trips daily. Hybrid taxi owners who lease vehicles to drivers can charge drivers $15 more per shift to lease a taxi, enabling an owner to earn more than $5,000 annually. The program calculates that an owner will save $20,000 per HEV over six years. Twenty months after the program started, about 50 hybrid taxis were on Boston’s streets. The voluntary program proved so successful that Boston instituted a mandatory program requiring all taxis to be clean air cabs by 2015. Compressed natural gas taxis also qualify for this program.

Cambridge started its hybrid taxi program in partnership with Whole Foods grocery stores. In exchange for exclu­sive, three-year rights to display advertisements on the taxis, Whole Foods made six donations of $5,000 toward the purchase of six HEVs. The city provided an additional $10,000 per vehicle, using funds from the auction of two taxi medallions. Although Whole Foods is no longer pro­viding grants, the city continues to do so. As of March 2009, the program has resulted in 15 hybrid taxis.

San Antonio’s program issues an additional taxi permit for each conventional vehicle replaced with an HEV. To prevent one fleet from obtaining all the permits, the larg­est company is allowed to replace only 1% of its fleet each year (six vehicles), while smaller companies can replace up to two vehicles. As of 2008, more than 70 of the city’s 843 taxis were HEVs. In fact, the statewide Texas Green & Go Clean Taxi Partnership has built off the San Antonio program’s success.

Lessons Learned

Leaders of the Boston, Cambridge, and San Antonio hybrid taxi programs learned several lessons that can help other cities institute successful programs.

Bring People Together

Creating taxi programs requires cooperation among busi­nesses and government agencies such as the city hackney or licensing division, city public health commission, city environmental department, state energy office, and port authority. Clean Cities coalitions can bring together stakeholder and provide “champions” to coordinate them.

It is important to involve taxi company representatives and drivers from the beginning to earn their buy-in and identify the most appropriate incentives. In San Antonio, even owners who initially opposed the program have adopted HEVs, partly because the program encouraged open dialogue.

Understand the Business

Understanding a city’s taxi structure is essential. Some cit­ies, such as New York and Boston, license taxis via medal­lions, which are limited in number and have significant property value. In contrast, cities with permit systems can easily change the number of taxis, but the permits do not carry the same financial weight. The relationship between drivers and companies also varies. Some companies own vehicles and have drivers rent them, whereas drivers act as independent contractors for other companies.

Know What Drivers Need

Drivers are more likely to buy into incentive programs if they know the benefits of HEVs. For drivers, fuel cost sav­ings are paramount. Some hybrid taxi drivers report cut­ting fuel costs by more than half. Drivers also like that HEVs improve customer satisfaction. “People like it because it’s green,” says James Christie, a Boston HEV driver. Some drivers report receiving larger tips when driving HEVs, and companies receive special customer requests for HEVs.

However, some drivers do find the size of HEVs challeng­ing with the trunk space limiting how much luggage—and thus how many passengers—they can carry. This depends in part on driver experience and vehicle model. Paul Lex, San Antonio’s first hybrid taxi driver, says he can fit as many as five bags in his Prius’ trunk, whereas some other drivers can fit only two. Some HEVs, such as the Escape, have more trunk space than the Prius.

Know What Owners Need

Because drivers pay for fuel, taxi company owners don’t profit from lower gasoline use, but they do benefit from greater driver satisfaction. Companies in Boston and San Antonio report having waiting lists of drivers eager to use HEVs. “If I try to take them away, it’s like pulling teeth,” says Miguel Constancio, operations manager at San Antonio Yellow Cab.

Owners also benefit from the longevity of HEVs. Most Crown Victorias in taxi service are used police vehicles. In Boston, these vehicles can be used for only three years before being replaced, but the city allows hybrid taxis to be used for up to six years. HEVs also can require fewer repairs. Cambridge driver George Fiorenza estimates he had to replace his Crown Victoria every 18 months, compared with the decade he expects to get out of his HEV. Lex says his HEV still had 30% of its brake pads left at 130,000 miles because of the regenerative braking system.

High initial cost is the biggest hurdle for owners. HEVs cost $25,000 to $30,000, compared with $7,000 for the used Crown Victoria with a “police package.” Ongoing costs are also a concern. The CleanAir CABS program estimates that most HEV drivers will replace the $7,000 battery once during the vehicle’s lifetime. Although HEVs might require less maintenance than conventional taxis overall, some repairs can be more costly. They may require expensive parts and servicing at a dealership or special equipment and training for in-house maintenance staff. Collision insurance payments also can increase because HEVs generally are worth more than conventional taxis.

For more information about Clean Cities visit

For More Information

Visit the Boston CleanAir CABS Web site at, and contact George Fiorenza of Cambridge’s Ambassador Brattle Cab Company (

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Vehicle Technologies Program

Green Taxi Cabs Gaining Ground Coast to Coast

Green Taxi Cabs Gaining Ground Coast to Coast
News by Sierra Club
(February 23, 2009) in Money / The Recession
I don’t take a lot of taxis, but I admit that when I do hop in a cab, speed and convenience are my motivation, not my carbon footprint. So I perked up while walking through downtown San Francisco this week when a Green Cab zipped by, sporting a spiffy green-and-white paint job and a checkered logo.

The company was founded in 2007 by eight veteran cabbies who were tired of getting pathetically low gas mileage in their company-issued cars. Green Cab is still a small outfit but the hybrids comprising the worker-owned company’s modest fleet get 40-plus miles to the gallon.

“The gas savings could put a lot more in your pocket,” Green Cab co-founder Mark Gruberg told the San Francisco Chronicle. “There are two principles we feel most strongly about—having a driver-run company and having an environmentally responsible company. It seems like this is really coming together at the right moment.”

San Francisco, Seattle, and New York have all been pursuing measures to green their taxi fleets, such as requiring that taxi companies purchase only alternative-fuel, hybrid, or high-mileage vehicles when replacing retired cabs. Chicago and Boston have also announced plans to green their fleets in the near future. Every three years, San Francisco’s entire fleet of cabs—which numbered 1,350 when Green Cab was founded—turns over.

According to the Cleantech Venture Network, North America’s nearly 200,000 taxis drive about 10 times more than regular passenger cars. Switching to hybrids will save cab drivers an average $1,200 to $1,500 per month on fuel. Cleantech has launched an initiative to convert taxis to hybrids, which could save $50 billion in fuel costs over a decade.

A little web surfing reveals that green cab companies are sprouting like spring wildflowers. Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit all have green taxi companies, as do many smaller cities like Burlington, Vt., Arlington, Va., and Charleston, S.C. Google “green cab,” plus the name of your city, to find out whether there’s an environmentally friendly taxi outfit where you live or are traveling to.
— Tom Valtin