A new kind of ride

OUR OPINION: Miami-Dade should create new regulations to include Lyft and UberX

06/10/2014 7:31 PM

06/10/2014 7:31 PM

There’s a money-making ride-sharing revolution trying to take hold in Miami-Dade. And it’s doubling as a lofty social movement, too. How can you beat that? The taxi and limousine industry is trying hard.

Miami-Dade County is the latest metropolitan area where the long-established car-for-hire industry is being challenged by upstarts. Like San Francisco, Chicago and St. Louis before it, Miami-Dade is being pushed to allow these 21st-century competitors to do business in the county. So far, the county has been reluctant — and, no doubt, well-rewarded — by the powerful taxi industry and has placed one roadblock after another in Lyft and UberX’s paths.

It’s a ridiculous and regressive stance that ill serves residents who don’t have or want a car in a sprawling county that demands one, can’t afford taxis or can’t get from Point A to Point B easily on public transportation.

Here’s how the new services work: Using an app on their smart phones, consumers can get a ride on demand. The apps match passengers with drivers. Each company charges passengers a fee — or donation — and takes a commission for each ride. Many of the drivers work part-time. The companies say they’re vetted to make sure they have driver’s licenses, pass background checks and have suitable automobiles.

Anecdotes from Miami-Dade residents who have used the services in other cities are impressive: The cars are clean, drivers prompt and friendly and the cost is about 30 percent less than that of a taxi. The whole process is cashless — users’ credit-card information is stored. And as part of Lyft’s social experiment, passengers are encouraged to sit in the front with the driver and make a connection, creating a sort of a Facebook on wheels.

Last week, both San Francisco-based companies decided to force the issue. Drivers hit the road despite the lack of county approval, picked up passengers — and were promptly caught in a county police sting, the cars impounded and the drivers fined. These cars are indeed fair game, because they are operating without the proper permits. But both companies appear to be here for the long haul. So it is imperative that the county and the “insurgents” come to an agreement.

A first conciliatory step might come Wednesday at a meeting between county officials and Lyft representatives, who told the Miami Herald Editorial Board they do not function as taxis and refuse to be regulated as such. They seek a new regulatory blueprint for their unique service. With the support of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, county staff is working to revise regulations to include the new model that UberX and Lyft present. A smart move toward the inevitable.

“We want a legal path to some decision,” Miami attorney Jorge Luis Lopez, representing Lyft locally. It’s true, these companies are animals of a different stripe that have won the support of millennials who don’t want to be saddled with owning their own cars, exacerbate climate change or travel in isolation. They want to get where they want to be safely and cheaply.

However, Miami-Dade taxi and limousine drivers — there are more than 2,600 — are up in arms.

Orlie Jedwab, president of Key Transportation, which has 100 drivers, contends that the new companies’ drivers are not fully insured, something the companies contest. “Our concerns have to do with the public’s safety,” she said. That, indeed, should be the bottom line as county officials proceed down this road.

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