Miami-Dade County

Taxi protest of Uber rolls through Miami on Friday

A flyer issued by a taxi-driver association in Miami. It was designed to head-off a taxi strike Friday over Miami-Dade’s failure to end Uber and Lyft’s thriving business in the county.
A flyer issued by a taxi-driver association in Miami. It was designed to head-off a taxi strike Friday over Miami-Dade’s failure to end Uber and Lyft’s thriving business in the county.

A parade of slow-moving taxis on Miami’s Brickell Avenue appeared to deliver a promised protest against Uber on Friday, with bystanders reporting traffic tie-ups as the parade moved through the busy street.

“They’re definitely protesting in #Brickell,” recruiting manager Mike Langley posted on his Twitter feed shortly afternoon Friday. “One sign reads: ‘Against Lawlesness/#Uber is Illegal.”

The demonstration followed moves Thursday by leaders of taxi groups to head-off a planned strike, which at one point threatened to thin out Miami International’s fleet of yellow cabs. The taxi groups said they didn’t expect much disruption to the cab business Friday, and an MIA spokesman said the airport detected no disruption Friday at its taxi stands.

“We have normal taxi operations so far this morning and there are not signs of a strike happening,” MIA spokesman Greg Chin said. “All quiet on the taxi front.”

Various reports had the taxi processional moving down Coral Way and Calle Ocho, suggesting a loop between Coral Gables and downtown Miami that included Brickell Avenue.

The protest promised to rev up the backlash against the taxi industry by supporters of Uber and its smaller competitor, Lyft, which are running a thriving business in Miami-Dade despite not having legal approval for its fleet of freelance drivers. The head of the New Vision taxi-drivers group distributed more than 1,000 flyers this week at MIA and other major taxi stands with headlines in Creole, Spanish and English that stated: “Be Informed — No Strike on Friday.”

The flyers blamed taxi companies for the planned protest, and told drivers not to stop working in order to help the owners’ battle against Uber and its smaller competitor, Lyft.

“Uber and Lyft were created by the greediness of the taxi companies,” read the flyer. “Let them deal with their monster.”

“There’s not going to be any problems with taxi services tomorrow,” said Raymond Francois, director of the New Vision taxi-drivers group, said Thursday. His group represents about 1,200 cabbies throughout Miami-Dade. “There’s no strike.”

At MIA, administrators were bracing Thursday for the disruption that a taxi slowdown could bring. “We are hearing that there may be some taxi drivers striking tomorrow at MIA,” Chin said Thursday. “Super Shuttle has been notified that they may need to have additional shuttles available.”

Uber and Lyft both operate illegally at MIA, so they could provide relief should taxi drivers strike in protest of the very service Uber and Lyft provide.

Both companies allow users to hail cars exclusively through cellphone apps, with passengers paying the fares through their phones. Taxi drivers say the unregulated business provides unfair competition, since the freelance drivers aren’t subject to the same fixed rates, insurance requirements and vehicle expenses (Uber and Lyft drivers use their personal cars) that govern the cab industry.

Uber and Lyft drivers don’t hold for-hire licenses from Miami-Dade, and are regularly fined by county regulators. But they’re growing in Miami-Dade anyway, with the fleet of freelance drivers outnumbering taxis and often offering cheaper fares. Uber, the larger of the two companies, reports having more than 10,000 drivers in Miami-Dade, compared to the county’s 5,000 licensed taxi drivers.

Elected leaders are divided on the regulation debate, which is playing out across Florida. Broward County recently cracked down on the companies, while Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has voiced support for changing the county’s taxi laws to accommodate Uber and Lyft.

Leaders of Miami-Dade’s tourism industry also want Uber and Lyft legalized, saying the companies offer better service than taxis and are demanded by visitors who use the services elsewhere.

Amid talk of a taxi strike, Uber on Thursday announced a new promotion that offers free rides in the Miami suburbs. “This week we are heading to Kendall to enjoy the sights, tastes and sounds,” read the e-mail special. “Find out how you can get in on the adventure.”

Juan C. Zapata, the county commissioner representing Kendall, touted the promotion on his Twitter feed. “Common sense triumphs,” Zapata wrote regarding Uber’s flouting of county rules. “#FreeUber.”