Complaining about taxis is a Miami sport. Most Miamians have a story about a late or no-show taxi, or about the worn-out and dirty conditions of the cabs themselves, or about our “bad attitude.” But what are the actual conditions for us drivers?
Imagine a job where you have to pay to work; where even when you are not working because of sickness, bad weather or a day off, you still have to pay. The job comes with constant scrutiny, and if you make a small mistake, you might either have to pay more fees or lose your job without future opportunity to work again.
You often experience police harassment and overzealous targeting for tickets and fines at the hands of code enforcement inspectors. The job is among the top 10 lowest-paying, most dangerous jobs in the United States, and includes extremely long hours with no benefits. When you work, you can expect to clean up body fluids, deal with aggressive and inebriated people, and receive constant mistreatment. But you take this job because often it is the only job available to you, and you have a family to feed and bills to pay.
This is our story, as Miami-Dade’s taxi drivers who are not medallion owners — medallions being the prohibitively expensive for-hire license needed to operate a cab. Taxi drivers have to pay from $550 to $750 per week to lease a medallion, depending on whether we own the vehicle. We pay this fee (even if we are unable to work) to taxi companies that own or administer medallions. The majority of drivers do not own medallions. This means no time off unless we want to pay for it. Any small accident or fender-bender can cause the cab company to kick us off its insurance, which means no more job — unless we pay the company $2,000 and fix the car ourselves, as the cab company’s insurance only covers the passenger, not us or our cars.
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These same cab companies denounce the illegality of Lyft and Uber, calling for the arrest of their drivers. Yet, stories abound of code violations by taxi companies, including charging drivers extra fees after an accident because they know that drivers are desperate to keep their job. Additionally, cab companies rarely provide drivers with their contracts, despite the code provision that requires otherwise.
New Vision Taxi Drivers Association has been organizing since 2003 for better working conditions for Miami-Dade taxi drivers. Most of us make poverty-level wages, even after working 16-hour days, because of hefty leasing fees. Some of us have started to work as Uber of Lyft drivers as the only way out. When we work with taxi companies, we pay them 80 percent of what we make; when we drive for Uber or Lyft, we keep 80 percent of what we make.
Our association supports legalizing Uber and Lyft in Miami-Dade, while keeping a watchful eye on their treatment of drivers. We would like to see our contracts printed out and carry copies of the insurance policies. These new ride-sharing companies must not follow in the footsteps of taxi companies. Instead, they should commit to implementing standard processes and transparency around driver dismissal and provide clear methods of communicating with company managers.
We want to work, but cannot continue under the exploitative conditions of the taxi system. Many of us who have switched over full-time to Uber or Lyft feel an immense sense of relief that we can work a regular eight-hour day and actually have something to show for it.
These new apps have created options for taxi drivers who have been working ourselves to the bone for the benefit of taxi companies and medallion holders, and offer opportunities for the unemployed and under-employed of Miami-Dade. As our county confronts the inevitable wave of innovation, arresting (or ticketing) taxi drivers or Miami residents is regressive and counterproductive. We believe that Miami-Dade County commissioners can figure out a way to introduce these ride-sharing apps into Miami, and the proposed ordinance by Commissioners Esteban Bovo Jr. and Audrey Edmonson is a start. This system can exist alongside a taxi system and even push that system to improve itself, without punishing those who are at the receiving end of a broken taxi system and a disintegrating economy.