Some of the oldest taxis in Miami-Dade moved closer to a later retirement date on Wednesday, with owners telling Miami-Dade leaders they can’t afford to replace the vehicles while suffering from a dramatic loss of market share to Uber.
“There’s no business out there. Uber has taken over,” said Rudy Gonzalez, owner of U.S.A. Taxi. “This has been my worst year in 45 years doing business here in Dade County. Even when we had Andrew it wasn’t so bad. Or 9/11.”
The Miami-Dade County Commission’s transit committee unanimously endorsed a proposal for a two-year delay on a mandatory retirement date that kicked in at the end of 2015 for more than 100 taxis that were built before 2008. Commissioners have extended retirement dates for taxis in the past, but this move comes a week before the board is slated to once again take up the controversy over how to legalize Uber’s popular cellphone-based vehicle service.
At their Jan. 20 meeting, the 13 commissioners are scheduled to face a rare instance of competing ordinances on the same topic.
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Legislation by Chairman Jean Monestime, a one-time taxi driver, would impose restrictions Uber opposes, including a requirement that all drivers for the company submit to the same county screening that taxi drivers do. It also would require Uber and its competitors to maintain insurance on its drivers’ cars 24 hours a day, rather than having company protections only kick in once a driver is heading to pick up a passenger.
The pro-Uber legislation comes from the commission’s vice-chairman, Esteban “Steve” Bovo, and it would let Uber and other “transportation network” providers screen their own drivers for criminal history and bad driving records. The bill also would tie insurance rules to state requirements.
After launching in Miami-Dade about two years ago, Uber has rapidly dwarfed the taxi industry in terms of vehicles. A memo by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez this week said there are more than 10,000 vehicles being operated illegally in Miami-Dade for Uber and its much smaller competitor, Lyft. That’s compared to 6,000 taxis and other for-hire vehicles licensed with the county system. Between May 2014 and the end of last year, Miami-Dade has issued about 3,500 citations to Uber and Lyft drivers.
The companies “now are coaching their drivers in ways to avoid detection by either removing smartphones from view, or having the riders pass themselves off as family members or friends by sitting in the vehicle’s front compartment seat,” Gimenez wrote.
At the transit committee meeting, taxi owner Terry Eisenberg tied Uber’s thriving business to the need for Miami-Dade to spare cab owners from having to replace older vehicles. A county analysis said the proposed legislation would give an extra two years of operation for 107 taxis that faced mandatory retirement on Dec. 31, 2015, and could cause “an increase in complaints regarding the maintenance, upkeep or aesthetics of such vehicles by tourists....”
“We are suffering in this county from illegal competition,” Eisenberg said. Of the taxis facing a Dec. 31 retirement date, he said: “We cannot replace those. There is no money to do it.”
Bovo, who chairs the transit committee, cast one of the four votes in favor of the retirement extension, which still needs a final vote before the full commission.
“I’ll support it today. I don’t do it enthusiastically,” he said. “My hope would be we bring the taxi industry up to current technology, not be an obstacle to folks out there who are trying to be innovative.”