Miami-Dade leaders taking on taxi drivers over service quality

When a senior Miami-Dade County official recently outlined to commissioners a plan to improve taxi service at Miami International Airport and PortMiami, she said that one reason for the change was a large number of complaints from passengers.

“We’ve had over 1,600 complaints a year,” said Theresa Therilus, legal advisor for the county’s Regulatory and Economic Resources Department (RER). “That’s not an exact number, but that is approximate. That is a high number of complaints.”

Therilus clearly left the impression that the complaints came from passengers who were dissatisfied with the service.

This is why taxi-industry representatives were surprised when, in response to a public-records request for the 1,600 complaints, they received far fewer — and only a few hundred actually dealt with taxicabs. The bulk of the records that the county sent to the South Florida Taxicab Association were citations to school buses, corporate cars, limousines and paratransit service vehicles, which do not provide regular taxi service.

Only about 277 of the records were actual consumer complaints about taxis, association president Diego Feliciano said. And, he added, those complaints came from passengers picked up by cabs all over the county — not just MIA and PortMiami.

One chart provided by Feliciano showed a total of 1,214 records, the bulk of which were citations issued by an enforcement officer against drivers of limousines, paratransit vehicles and school buses.

“They sent us a little less than 1,600 complaints in general from all the industry, school buses and everybody else” said Feliciano. “Also citations were included there and if come over to the consumer complaints you’ll see they are only 277 involving actual riders.”

Feliciano said the relatively small number of passenger complaints about taxis shows the county is exaggerating the problem.

“This is in 2,120 cabs and over 7 million passengers,” said Feliciano in a recent interview.

In other words, Feliciano said, Therilus provided erroneous information to county commissioners at the meeting where she mentioned the 1,600 complaints.

Joe Mora, director of RER’s for-hire transportation division, acknowledged that Therilus should have explained more clearly that the figure included countywide citations against all for-hire vehicles, not just taxicabs at the airport and seaport.

Mora also did not dispute the South Florida Taxicab Association’s analysis of records turned over by the county. But Mora noted that even if the records contained only 277 taxicab complaints, “those are just too many.”

Mora said that every year the county gets a significant number of complaints about taxicab service countywide, which “hurt the visitor industry.”

The cab issue came to prominence earlier this year, soon after Emilio Gonzalez took over as new aviation department director.

He helped launch the first-ever comprehensive campaign to improve taxi service at Miami International Airport (MIA) by publicizing a series of complaints by passengers about drivers.

Chief examples of complaints included refusal to transport passengers going to destinations near MIA such as Coral Gables, refusal to accept credit cards for payment and overcharging passengers on long trips.

Then late last month, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez unveiled his Ambassador Cabs Program proposal under which only highly selected taxi drivers would be allowed to pick up passengers at MIA and PortMiami.

The proposal would punish drivers who refuse service and credit cards or who overcharge.

Gimenez’s proposal would require drivers who serve MIA and the port to carry in their vehicles credit-card, GPS and SunPass devices, as well as digital security cameras.

Both taxi drivers and owners have rejected the proposal.

Drivers are planning a rally Monday in front of the county hall building downtown to protest the mayor’s proposal.

In a statement, drivers said that Gimenez’s proposal, as well as a separate one by Commissioner Juan Zapata requiring credit-card machines, “fails to address the inhuman working conditions of the taxicab drivers.”

The taxi issue will be discussed in depth by the county commission on Tuesday. Dozens — perhaps hundreds — of cab drivers and owners are expected to turn out for the hearing.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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