When the bodega on the corner can accept plastic to buy a pound of malanga, when the watercolorist at the art fair can plug a doohicky into her iPad and swipe an art lover’s credit card, should the cab drivers of Miami-Dade County, ferrying not just customers, but a billion-dollar business in their grungy taxis, continue to offer a payment experience rooted in the early 20th century?
That’s just what many drivers — and the companies that own the cabs that they drive — want to happen. No upgrades, no cleaner cabs, no drivers without attitude and no credit cards accepted.
Miami-Dade commissioners should respond, “No way,” when they meet on Wednesday. It will take backbone and vision, two things too many of them have been missing in the quest to introduce a technologically enhanced experience for visitors and residents trying to get from Point A to Point B in the 21st century.
Commissioners will weigh upgrading vehicles and the technology they carry. The most significant change: Passengers would be able to pay the fare with a credit card. This is no longer a novel amenity, it’s a must for an area that continually tries to sell itself as a global community, ready to welcome tourists, yes, but as important, business and the investment that it brings. Cabs would have to install GPS, SunPass and security cameras. And cars would have to be upgraded more frequently.
There should be no debate. With spine, commissioners will stand up to the cab companies and investors who don’t seem to want to spend a penny more than necessary to keep their cars on the road. With vision, they will see that credit cards, GPS and upgraded, roadworthy taxicabs are the very least that visitors to greater Miami expect, and are owed.
After all, the commissioners who should have taken the lead, punted instead, failing to give the Uber plan the fair hearing that it deserved. Uber, pushed last year by Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, offers an app that lets passengers order up a Town Car, or “black car” from their mobile phones without having to wait an hour for such a higher-end car. Right now, the rules ridiculously require that 60-minute delay. This would have expanded sedan service — and competition, which, too, would force improvements.
Cab companies feared a deregulation of the car-service industry would make the value of their medallions drop.
But these tight regulations are in many ways the source of passengers’ substandard transportation experiences — from being overcharged by cab drivers to enduring drivers who don’t know where the heck they’re going because there’s no GPS to riding in dirty, shabby cabs.
Not to be lost in the discussion are the concerns of the cab drivers themselves. They say that they are caught betwixt and between. Those who can’t afford the extremely expensive medallions — they can cost $340,000 — and own their cabs, are working for low pay, which is made lower still by the lease payments they must make and the gas they must buy and the licenses they have to renew each year.
A proposal from Commissioner Juan Zapata would offer a cash discount to passengers who want to use cash. In addition, credit-card transaction fees could be picked up by the cab companies instead of the drivers.
Cab drivers would have to adapt, doing so more easily if they can secure better financial terms from cab companies — something the county should strongly urge the companies to put on the table.