NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As taxi drivers paraded by New Orleans' City Hall with horns blaring in protest, Mayor Mitch Landrieu made it clear the city won't back away from broad new regulations governing their vehicles, insisting that all taxis be in compliance if they want to do business during next year's Super Bowl.
"I know some of them are disgruntled," Landrieu said during a Thursday news conference where city and state officials discussed plans for the Feb. 3 game and the events surrounding it. "And I'm sorry because taxi cab drivers are the ambassadors of the city of New Orleans."
Deputy Mayor Michelle Thomas said that by the end of January, all taxis on the street will be in compliance with requirements that include air conditioning, surveillance cameras, credit card machines and global positioning devices. The regulations were approved by the City Council in April and have survived court challenges. Aside from regulations governing the vehicles condition and equipment, the new rules also require that taxis be no more than 11 years old.
Some cab drivers and owners have said the new regulations will be too costly. Scores of drivers passed City Hall at about the same time as the news conference, honking in protest of regulations that will affect about, 1,600 vehicles.
"Ditch Mitch," read one sign on bright green poster board affixed to the side of a cab.
The protest parade slowed midday traffic on downtown streets already impeded by construction of a new streetcar line — part of an overall sprucing up of the city in anticipation of a tourist-heavy period beginning in late January when the city will be the site of Mardi Gras parades, the Super Bowl, then more Mardi Gras parades.
At the news conference, officials said the construction of the new tracks, as well as upgrades at Louis Armstrong International Airport and various road and streetlight repairs near the Superdome all will be ready in time for the game.
Also Thursday, city officials said about 8,000 volunteers will be needed to help the city host Super Bowl events. That includes an estimated 4,000 needed to help with the "NFL Experience" — what amounts to a small theme park of interactive games, displays and entertainment.