Drivers worry that upkeep for the credit-card processing equipment would take a bite out of their wages. One possibility is for the county to require firms that sell the equipment to pay for installation and ongoing maintenance.
Another pocketbook concern for drivers: the delay in receiving payments from credit-card companies — up to two business days, according to the proposal.
“Many [cab drivers] lease the cars they drive on a day-to-day basis,” driver José Luis León said on a recent morning at MIA. With delayed credit-card deposits, he said, “They won’t have money to pay [the leases].”
Far more contentious than the credit-card requirement, which has been bandied about at County Hall for years, is deregulating the car-service industry to accommodate new smartphone-app companies that don’t have their own fleets but still dispatch cars.
Apps such as Flywheel and Taxi Magic already allow local passengers to request cabs using their phones. The tech companies work with existing taxi operators, syncing their systems so users can summon the cab nearest to them, regardless of which company the vehicle belongs to.
But the next wave of apps are designed to sidestep the taxi industry altogether.
Behind the legislative push is Uber, a San Francisco startup that has spread to 36 cities, including Washington, D.C. and London. Its principal business is letting users request for-hire rides. Similar apps include Sidecar and Lyft.
In some cities, Uber has partnered with taxi companies to also offer cab rides. But that’s not its current plan for Miami-Dade. Instead, Uber wants to dispatch any for-hire sedan driver licensed by the county.
Miami-Dade does not allow just anyone to obtain one of those permits. Applications are currently closed, and the permits have been limited to the 626 already granted.
Legislation proposed by Commissioner Audrey Edmonson would do away with those and other restrictions, allowing an unlimited number of drivers.
That change would effectively devalue existing permits, and not just for sedan drivers, whose licenses sell on the open market for between $15,000 and $25,000, according to Joe Mora, director of the county’s passenger transportation regulatory division.
The county’s more expensive, 2,121 taxi permits would likely lose value, too. The last time the county auctioned six “medallions,” in 2012, they sold for $415,000 on average, Mora said.
That’s often the consequence of new technology clashing with outdated regulations, said Nairi Hourdajian, an Uber spokeswoman. The company has encountered regulatory challenges elsewhere in the country, including in New York and Los Angeles, but Hourdajian characterized the Miami-Dade rules as among the worst the firm has seen.
“The kind of existing regulations designed to protect taxis in Miami … are fairly unprecedented,” she said. “Usually the way it works is, we enter a market and then people realize, ‘Oh, we have competition.’ This is a different animal.”
The county, for example, requires sedan drivers to pre-arrange rides more than an hour in advance, and sets minimum rates far higher than those charged by taxis. Edmonson’s proposal would eliminate the hour lead time and let companies establish rates, though the minimum for a trip must be two times the taxi meter rate for a fraction of a mile.