“This legislation is not about one particular company. This is about consumer service,” said Edmonson, whose proposal is backed by the county tourism board and hotels association. “There should never be the perception that we attack a new business or revise the existing rules to protect an incumbent business.”
A slew of taxi drivers and a few town-car drivers urged commissioners to side with Edmonson, giving cabbies a chance to jump to the town-car industry — leaving behind taxi companies they said gouges drivers — and existing town-car drivers an opportunity to grow their small businesses.
Uber also flew in drivers who use the app in San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Atlanta to laud the company.
Jack Smith of Washington, D.C., said he was raised in Miami Gardens but could not have started his own car-service firm unless he moved.
“I wanted to start a business here before I moved to Virginia, but because of the medallion, I couldn’t,” he said, referring to the pricey taxi medallions that limit the number of cabs that can operate in Miami-Dade County.
The value of those 2,121 medallions — worth about $325,000 each, the county said Tuesday in an updated estimate — could plummet under competition from a deregulated town-car industry, medallion owners and other drivers argued. They accused commissioners of planning to change the rules in the middle of the business game.
That would be “un-American,” taxi driver Geoffrey Radlein said.
“You will destroy that market,” said Kevin Michaels, who has a car-service business he said could be driven to the ground by a deregulated market. “Please think it through.”
When Commissioners Sally Heyman and Jean Monestime asked who would protect the existing taxi and car-service businesses, Gimenez, a proponent of Edmonson’s legislation, was clear: No one.
“Where’s the protection for the restaurants that abide by all the rules and have health requirements by the state? How come we don’t protect them from more restaurants?” he said. “Who’s not being protected is the consumer.”
Opponents of Edmonson’s proposal cited several other apps, such as Hailo, that would allow passengers to request taxi drivers using their cell phones without having to make any changes to the county’s regulatory system.
But most commissioners said they want business travelers and tourists to have the same high-end service in Miami-Dade than they do in other big cities around the world.
“When a system is in such disarray, I think if we want to bring real change, we have to do it once and not do it piecemeal,” Monestime said. “This is San industry that truly needs real reform.”