A Key West Uber driver was arrested Friday after a crackdown by the city on unlicensed vehicle-for-hire drivers.
Martin Maness, 51, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of violating the city's ordinance that requires drivers of any ride service to have a passenger vehicle-for-hire driver permit and vehicle license. Beginning July 1, the city of Key West said it would arrest unlicensed vehicle-for-hire drivers.
Key West police spokeswoman Alyson Crean said Friday's arrest followed complaints that Uber drivers were picking up fares from Key West International Airport. She said she didn't know who filed the complaints.
Maness was arrested after picking up undercover police officers at Key West International and delivering them to the Reach Resort at 1435 Simonton St. He was booked into jail around 10:40 p.m. and bailed out early Saturday on $701 bond.
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Police say Maness told detectives after his arrest that he knew that driving Uber in Key West was against the law but that the money was worth the risk. Maness could receive up to 60 days in jail and be fined $500.
Uber is a ride-for-hire service where freelance drivers operate their own cars and pick people up via a phone app. Unlike taxi drivers, Uber drivers are not licensed.
Undercover Key West police cited two Uber drivers on Dec. 20 for not having the proper licenses. Richard Owen Uhl, 61, has a hearing scheduled for Aug. 8 and Henry Braxton Allen, 34, is due in court Aug. 5.
Uber drivers in Key West can’t get a vehicle-for-hire license because the city limits the number of licenses.
“Taxi companies convinced the city to cap the numbers [of licenses] 20 years ago,” Key West licensing official Carolyn Walker said.
The only way to obtain a license is to buy one from another license holder or appear before a City Commission public hearing and request new licenses, Walker said. The public hearings take place in October of each even-numbered year. If the commission agrees to increase the cap, the licenses would be distributed on a random basis.
Walker says there are 72 licensed vehicles now operating in Key West.
Key West Uber driver William Nalley said Uber has shut down the GPS rider system in Key West, meaning the app no longer works. Uber did not return a request for comment via email.
Crackdowns on Uber are escalating across South Florida and elsewhere, with local governments saying vehicle-for-hire services such as Uber and Lyft violate local laws. Uber pulled out of Broward County last week after commissioners passed an ordinance requiring each driver to obtain a county chauffeur registration, a car permit and submit to a county-run background check, as well as carry state-required commercial insurance.
In a written statement, Uber said it had no choice but to suspend operations in Broward. Uber remains in operation illegally in Miami-Dade.
KeysInfoNet staff writer Larry Kahn contributed to this story.