With the high tourist season almost upon us, South Florida is gearing up for the international visitors and big events that have lifted Miami’s reputation from a sleepy retirement town to a world-class gem that attracts billionaires from as far away as Japan to come view the latest exquisite pieces at Art Basel or to take a cruise to the Caribbean.
But those visitors still have to navigate Miami International Airport and PortMiami, and it is those first impressions that can make or break our future as word spreads about lousy cab rides — no air conditioning, no ability to pay with a credit card, in essence, bad service.
On Tuesday, Miami-Dade County commissioners have an opportunity to end the old ways and usher the taxi industry into the 21st century — and to send a signal to international investors that Miami is serious about improving urban mobility, whether it’s Car2Go, where you can rent a car by the hour, or services like Uber or Hailo, which offer a computer app for cell phones to order a Town Car.
Commissioners will have four proposals before them:
• The Ambassador Cabs Program, proposed by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and sponsored by Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, would raise the bar for those cab drivers who want to pick up passengers at the airport or seaport. They would have to carry credit-card, GPS and SunPass devices and digital security cameras. It would fine cabs that refuse to pick up visitors or their bags or who overcharge. It also would have a dress code for drivers — a shirt with a collar, not a T-shirt, please — and require that vehicles not be outdated jalopies.
• A credit-card or debit-card requirement, proposed by Commissioner Juan Zapata, also is on the agenda. It would offer a cash discount to passengers who prefer to use cash, which gives drivers who complain about paying a credit-card transaction fee some wiggle room. But be warned, cabbies, the payment method has to change to catch up to every other major city where taxis offer credit-card payment. Besides, it’s safer for drivers to carry card receipts than cash.
• Commissioner Dennis Moss is proposing a fine for cab drivers who overcharge — a common complaint by visitors and residents alike. The airport’s new director Emilio Gonzalez says his office often gets those complaints.
• The expansion of sedan service, the so-called “black cars” or Town Cars would be welcome news for visitors who right now have to wait an hour after hailing such a high-end car because rules require the wait. It’s time to bust up that monopoly. Commissioner Audrey Edmonson wants the county to offer passengers a quick service at their finger tips through the Uber app. She’s right. The county simply has too few Town Cars. Instead of setting a cap on licenses, the county should require quality standards for the cars (already regulated for safety) and let the market — and not government — dictate demand.
Many taxi drivers argue they can’t afford to offer credit cards, and that expanding the sedan service would be “unfair.” Those arguments fall flat. Any business person understands that to grow you have to invest.
As Miami’s reputation as a world-class destination takes root, commissioners must embrace the type of innovations that will help attract high-tech start-ups to the region. Instead of falling into the monopoly trap and continuing to erect regulatory barriers to innovation, it’s time for Miami-Dade to move forward — and quickly.