Uber launched an app-based political campaign on Thursday targeting Miami-Dade commissioners.
The ride-hailing company sent emails urging its tens of thousands of Miami-Dade customers to contact their county commissioners to oppose legislation that Uber says would make it “impossible” for the app-based ride service to continue operating in the county. Each email is customized to the customer’s commission district, and offers a one-click option to call or email commission offices.
“WE NEED YOUR VOICE,” reads the email, which arrived with the subject line, “Save Uber in Miami-Dade.”
Next Wednesday, commissioners are slated to take initial votes on competing Uber legislation — one supported by the San Francisco-based company and one opposed. The pro-Uber ordinance would allow Uber to screen its own drivers and provide insurance only when an operator has been hired to provide a ride. The rival ordinance would require Miami-Dade to screen Uber drivers the same way it does taxi operators and impose the same 24-hour insurance coverage that is currently required for cabs.
The Uber email said the first proposal, sponsored by the commission Vice Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo, “welcomes Uber to Miami-Dade and would create a permanent regulatory home for ridersharing here.” The competing bill, sponsored by Chairman Jean Monestime, “is one of the most hostile ridesharing laws in the country — and, if passed, would make it impossible for Uber to continue operating.”
Along with the emails, the company urged Uber drivers to call Monestime’s office. “Our driver-partners have incredibly powerful voices,” the email said of a driver fleet that the company says includes more than 10,000 people in the county. “Contact Chairman Monestime to share what partnering with Uber means to you and your family, how your life would change without Uber, and what your service means to riders in Miami-Dade.”
A commission source said the chairman’s office was receiving 5 to 10 calls an hour on Thursday. Commissioner emails generated by the Uber email also automatically copied Monestime’s official county account.
Targeted by Uber, Monestime, a one-time taxi driver, announced a press conference to address the issue for Friday at 10 a.m. at County Hall in downtown Miami. It would be his first press conference since he was elected chairman in late 2014.
Uber launched a similar campaign in Broward last year when commissioners imposed regulations that the company opposed. Uber briefly shut down service in Broward. After the boycott and a flood of emails from passengers and drivers, Broward commissioners reversed course and enacted legislation supported by Uber.
A company valued by investors at more than $60 billion, Uber, along with smaller competitor, Lyft, pairs riders with freelance drivers using cellphone apps, with payment handled electronically on the phone. While taxi laws regulate fares and the number of cabs on the road, Uber imposes no fee limit on its rates and can use an unlimited number of part-time drivers.
Uber has waged similar battles across the country in a fight to legalize its services. Though locally illegal, Uber says it has more than 10,000 drivers in Miami-Dade — far more than the 6,000 cabs licensed to operate in the county. Taxi owners say Uber presents unfair competition, since it is not limited by the number of vehicles, fare caps or other restrictions.
The email campaign by Uber hints at the company’s technological edge against taxi advocates. Emails sent to customers represented by a commissioner perceived to be on Uber’s side were told: “Your commissioner is supportive of Uber. Tap the buttons below to say thanks.”
For constituents of commissioners deemed not to support Uber’s position, the language is different: “Urge your commissioner to VOTE YES on the Bovo proposal and VOTE NO on the Monestime proposal.”
The emails also can generate a tweet with the hashtag #saveubermiami. Shortly before 2 p.m., the hashtag was No. 1 on Twitter’s trending list in Miami.
“I think it’s a very dirty trick,” said Diego Feliciano, president of the South Florida Taxicab Association. “There’s no way for our industry to compete with the mechanism that Uber has when it comes to technology, and using social media.... I hope it backfires.”