Miami-Dade County

Push to bring Uber car service to Miami stalls

 

pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

Miami won’t be getting Uber, the digital booking service to summon luxury-car rides, any time soon.

The Miami-Dade County commissioner trying to deregulate the car-service industry to allow Uber and similar technology companies to compete here has shelved her legislation — for now.

The reason: Two of her colleagues in key posts blocked it.

Though she didn’t name them, Audrey Edmonson said opposition from Bruno Barreiro and Dennis Moss made it impossible for her proposal to pass an initial procedural hurdle.

“We just don’t want to come into the 21st century,” she lamented.

Uber and its competitors don’t hire drivers and provide cars themselves. Instead, they act as a digital dispatch service bringing together independent drivers and users through mobile apps. The companies make money by setting luxury rates for passengers and charging drivers a commission.

Moss, who helped write the existing county regulations, chairs the transportation and aviation committee that would have had to approve Edmonson’s proposal before going to a full commission vote.

He fought the legislation, which would have lifted a cap on the number of luxury-car permits, brought minimum fares closer to those charged by taxicabs and eliminated a requirement that rides be arranged at least an hour in advance.

“If you want to pay for a luxury ride, then you should basically have to pay for a luxury ride,” Moss said in November. “That way we make sure that cab companies can also continue to make a living.”

Barreiro, the committee vice-chairman, was particularly opposed to having an unlimited number of permits for limousines and luxury cars — the sedans dispatched by Uber. Miami-Dade now has 626.

“I think it has to be a number. What is that number, I don’t know,” he said. “But it shouldn’t be carte blanche.”

Both sides were heavily lobbied. South Florida taxicab and limousine permit owners registered at least seven lobbyists to defend their interests, county records show. Uber registered at least six.

For two years, Uber has been lobbying the county, at first quietly and then openly, to remove those barriers so it can set up shop.

The San Francisco-based firm has experienced explosive growth internationally and across the U.S., where it has set up shop in 31 cities, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Jacksonville, its first city in Florida.

But critics have accused it of working outside parameters set for taxicab and other transit services, particularly by hiking fares during peak times and assuming no liability for drivers and their vehicles.

Company spokesman Nairi Hourdajian said Friday that Uber is still hoping to break into the Miami market.

“Nothing’s changed in that the consumers and drivers in Miami are still clamoring for Uber,” she said. “The path forward may remain unclear, but our ambitions for Miami as a company have not changed.”

She would not comment on the firm’s future strategy, but noted the Miami Beach City Commission passed a resolution Jan. 15 urging the county to allow companies like Uber to operate.

With only four members on the committee, the opposition from Moss and Barreiro was enough to stall Edmonson’s proposal. In light of the near-certain failure, she deferred a vote on it in November and a month later withdrew the legislation from the committee entirely. Cab companies applauded the move.

She considered rewriting her proposal to make the changes more palatable. But the committee wanted to water it down too much, Edmonson told the Miami Herald last week.

“If it had gotten to the full BCC,” she said, referring to the Board of County Commissioners, “it would have passed.”

Her new plan is to wait for the committee membership to change. But that would require an extraordinary move by Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa — a stickler for what bureaucrats call “the process” — to alter the committee’s makeup in the middle of her two-year term as commission head.

Otherwise, committees likely won’t be reshuffled until next year, when a new chairperson takes over.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez, an Uber proponent who has been trying to market the county as a high-tech innovation hub, called the delay “an embarrassment to the city.”

“We’re trying to position ourselves as technology leaders and entrepreneurs,” he told the Herald. “If it doesn’t go through, it’s a black eye on Miami-Dade County.”

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