Visitors arriving at Miami International Airport may be treated to the new terminal with all its high-tech amenities only to get outside in the humid summer to fetch a smelly, dirty taxi with a grumpy driver. When a taxi passenger wants to pay for her ride with a credit or debit card she’s out of luck because it’s “cash only.”
When our visitors want to leave MIA for the seaport or their hotel and ride in luxury, they can get a pricier sedan or Town Car — but only if they have ordered it at least an hour beforehand. Oh, and the minimum cost is $70 no matter if the car has to go but a few minutes on the road or an hour.
With its bustling clubs, beaches and arts and cultural amenities, greater Miami should be a world-class city of the 21st century. But our visitors’ first impression in some of our taxis must make them feel like they are barely out of the horse-and-buggy era.
The Miami-Dade County Commission has an opportunity this week to put our area’s leading industry — tourism — where it belongs, at the forefront of technology. Two proposals would put cab customers’ convenience and satisfaction ahead of the stagnation that too often sets in with taxi companies resisting any changes.
One proposal, by Commissioner Juan Zapata, would make credit- and debit-card transactions available on taxis. Cabbies complain that they shouldn’t get stuck with the credit-card fee, that the customer should pay extra. But in other cities the companies pick up the fee.
Consider, too, that studies have shown that cab drivers get bigger tips when the transaction is by card rather than in cash. That should be a great incentive to pursue card transactions.
Another proposal, by Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, would break up the sedan monopoly and offer passengers quick service at their fingertips through a computer app they can use on their cell phone to get a sedan within minutes. The app lets visitors get a reliable car that can be tracked on their cell phones until its arrival. (One of the technology companies that wants the business in Miami-Dade is called Uber, but there are other e-hail apps such as Hailo.)
Right now the county has 625 licenses for Town Cars or other sedans that solicit business from tourists, which limits availability. It may well be a quality-control issue. But during peak seasons — consider the well-heeled who travel here during the international Art Basel art festival — it’s frustrating for many of our visitors.
Instead of a set number of licenses, the county should require a minimum standard of quality for those cars and whoever meets those standards should get a business license. (The county should do the same for taxis, starting with a requirement that they must have clean cabs and running air conditioning.)
More than 30 cities throughout the world use the app service for sedans as part of their transportation mix — among them, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Washington, Paris, Stockholm and Sydney. But in Miami, opportunities are being limited.
MIA’s former airport director José Abreu, who retired earlier this year after completing massive projects including the new terminal, warned before his departure that travelers’ complaints about the taxi industry continued to mount, but his hands were tied because drivers don’t work for the airport. Nor do they seem to work very well for their customers.
Commissioners can change the industry’s mind set, open up more jobs and offer a quality ride to our visitors and locals alike. Get going!