Business

Uber and Lyft have a new rival in Miami-Dade: Wingz

Screenshot of the Uber app, activated in downtown Miami on May 3, 2016.
Screenshot of the Uber app, activated in downtown Miami on May 3, 2016.

Uber and Lyft have competition in the ride-hailing market they spent years lobbying to legalize in Miami-Dade County. Wingz, a San Francisco-based company that specializes in airport rides, recently joined the two industry leaders in requesting a ride-hailing license from the county.

County officials had expected only Uber and Lyft, its much smaller national competitor, to pursue temporary ride-hailing licenses once Miami-Dade began accepting them last month. But Wingz, which already operates at 10 airports in the West, including San Francisco and Denver, filed the paperwork needed to pick up passengers in Miami-Dade, according to documents released this week by county regulators.

Wingz functions like Uber and Lyft: It recruits freelance drivers who use their personal vehicles to ferry passengers on rides that are hailed by the company’s cellphone app, and the transactions are paid by phone, too. But Wingz offers a twist on the real-time bookings offered by Uber and Lyft, which also have headquarters in San Francisco. Wingz customers book their rides in advance for a fixed price, and are limited to airport pick-ups and drop-offs.

Company representatives for Wingz were not immediately available for interviews on Tuesday. The Wingz app does not yet list Miami International Airport as an option for users seeking a ride.

Uber and Lyft first deployed lobbyists to Miami-Dade in 2013 in an effort to legalize their ride-hailing services, and the County Commission passed pro-industry legislation on May 3. Wingz wasn’t mentioned during the debate, and a top county official predicted only Uber and Lyft would be seeking temporary licenses from Miami-Dade.

Uber submitted $312,000 in licensing fees, which would cover 12,000 vehicles operating in Miami-Dade under new county rules. Lyft submitted just over $6,600, which was enough to cover 254.

Both Uber and Lyft began operating in Miami-Dade during the summer of 2014, with their drivers accumulating fines from county inspectors who ticketed them for offering the equivalent of taxi service without a license. Mayor Carlos Gimenez is negotiating with both companies to reduce the more than $3 million in outstanding fines (more than 90 percent owed by Uber drivers) to avoid what he described as costly litigation to pursue the full amounts.

The documents and related fee payments released by Miami-Dade’s Transportation Department on Monday and Tuesday marked the first time that Uber and Lyft were asked to provide an official accounting of their local fleet sizes.

That may be a sensitive subject: Uber balked at applying for a 30-day Miami-Dade license, which would require the fleet-size disclosure, and instead is holding out to move directly to a permanent license, where the disclosure rules are less clear.

A temporary license requires a flat $350 fee, plus $26 for each vehicle doing business in Miami-Dade. Karla Damian, a Transportation spokeswoman, said Tuesday that Lyft paid the $350 fee plus just over $6,600. That was enough to cover 254 vehicles. Lyft, like Wingz, was issued a temporary, 30-day license on Friday, Damian said.

Uber took a different route.

In its letter to Miami-Dade, Uber said it wanted to skip the issuance of a temporary license and instead be granted a permanent one. Commissioners still need to adopt regulations for the permanent license, including the fee structure. In its May 20 letter to Miami-Dade, Uber said payments it submits to the county could be applied against whatever fees are due for a permanent license, with Miami-Dade issuing a refund if the company ends up owing less.

Uber told county regulators it would pay $350 plus $312,000. That would be enough to cover exactly 12,000 vehicles, the high end of what Uber representatives have in the past said was the size of their Miami-Dade fleet (which has generally been reported as being larger than 10,000).

Uber’s request for a Miami-Dade license ‘is still under review.’

Transportation Department spokeswoman Karla Damian

Damian, the Transportation spokeswoman, said Uber had not yet paid the $312,000 cited in the letter and that its application request “is still under review.”

In its May 20 letter, Uber linked the $312,000 figure to what Deputy Mayor Alina Hudak listed as the amount of revenue the administration expected to receive from both Uber and Lyft through temporary licenses. Damian said the county used estimates from Uber and Lyft that, combined, they had 12,000 vehicles on the road in Miami-Dade.

At the May 3 commission meeting, a Lyft representative said the company had “thousands” of vehicles in Miami-Dade — suggesting a far larger fleet than the one it paid for in the county licensing fee.

The May 3 Hudak memo hints at the surprise brought on by the Wingz application, since it said the Transportation Department “anticipates two companies” will apply for temporary licenses.

In the Wingz application, the company said it was paying $1,650 — enough to cover the base application fee, plus 50 vehicles.

On its website, Wingz touts its slogan as “Pre-booked, private airport rides. No surge. No stress.” The boast draws a contrast with Uber and Lyft, which require real-time booking and have fees that vary minute by minute, based on demand. It lists no East Coast markets — only airports in Arizona, California, Colorado, Texas and Washington State.

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