Greater Miami has Joe’s Stone Crabs, Art Basel, the International Book Fair, two glorious national parks and the lively Calle Ocho festival. What it doesn’t have is Uber, a computer app that allows cellphone users to order a town car for a ride to their destination. The car-for-hire app is already in 42 other American cities, and it definitely should be in this tourist mecca, too.
But while the Miami-Dade County Commission is set to vote Tuesday on a slate of improvements to the ground transportation industry — specifically taxi cabs — the Uber issue isn’t on the agenda, unfortunately.
The commission’s Transportation and Aviation Committee last week voted to delay any decision on bringing the San Francisco-based Uber to this area, a proposal authored by Commissioner Audrey Edmonson that has broad support among cab drivers and tourism officials. It’s strongly opposed by cab owners, who have had a monopoly on the surface transportation service industry for seemingly forever here.
While it ducked the Uber issue, the committee did unanimously approve bringing Miami-Dade’s taxi industry into the 21st century by requiring cabs at the airport and seaport to purchase newer vehicles and carry credit card, GPS and Sunpass devices and digital security cameras. A dress code for drivers would also be instituted. Eventually, these requirements would extend to all cabs in the county.
Another change would fine cab drivers who refuse to pick up visitors with nearby destinations, such as to Coral Gables from Miami International Airport, and rightly so.
The full commission should adopt all of these improvements without a quibble. They’re all long overdue, especially allowing passengers to pay with credit cards instead of cash. Charge transactions are not only more convenient for the county’s 14 million annual tourists, but also safer for cab drivers who now must carry cash and risk being robbed, or worse.
Ms. Edmonson has promised to refine the Uber proposal, which would require the county to deregulate rules for the limousine industry, and to bring it back to the transportation committee in December. Some of the current regulations are ridiculous. One requires that a limo driver must arrange rides more than an hour in advance. Another limits limousine permits to 626 countywide.
Many cab drivers support the Uber plan because they believe they could earn more as town-car and limousine drivers than as cabbies. But the committee’s members couldn’t accept the idea of lifting the permit limit and allowing the market to determine the number of town cars and limos that could operate competitively. Nor could they agree to set minimum town-car rates, even though they would be higher than cabs are allowed to charge.
These issues can be sorted out. Cabs will always be an integral part of tourism here, but visitors — and residents, too — should have more options beyond cab stands at the airport, seaport and all points in between.
And while the cab owners point out that cellphone users can already use the Flywheel and Taxi Magic technology to connect with cab drivers, there is room for Uber, too. Bring on the competition, which can only make visitors’ experiences in Miami-Dade even better, from the moment they arrive until they depart — via cab, limo or town car.