Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade mayor wants to waive nearly half of Uber’s fines

The Uber app at work. The company’s drivers face $3 million in fines in Miami-Dade County.
The Uber app at work. The company’s drivers face $3 million in fines in Miami-Dade County.

Uber would pay 55 cents of every dollar in fines its drivers face in Miami-Dade County as part of Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s plan to legalize the popular ride-hailing service.

Gimenez is readying another battle over Uber as he presses Jean Monestime, chairman of the County Commission, to clear the way for commissioners to take up the mayor’s proposed law on taxis and app-based ride services like Uber. County regulators have been fining Uber’s freelance drivers since 2014 as the company opted to defy authorities while garnering customers and support in Miami-Dade.

Uber drivers owe about $3.2 million, and the Gimenez plan would waive $1.4 million of that — leaving about $1.8 million to pay, county officials said.

Forgiving Uber fines has already drawn criticism from Monestime, who questioned why a global company with a $50 billion valuation from investors should be allowed to withhold fees owed Miami-Dade.

“The mayor basically was publicly supporting Uber working within the county illegally,” Monestime said of Gimenez’s public endorsement of the company as a must for a modern city. “Now he wants to wipe out the fines. I don’t think that’s something you do for a $50 billion company.”

Alice Bravo, Gimenez’s transportation director, said reducing fines makes sense since Uber and its smaller competitor, Lyft, are trying to overturn the county’s enforcement actions in court. Legal costs, and the risk of losing the cases, make accepting a lower amount a reasonable option, she said.

“I wouldn’t call it forgiving,” Bravo said. “You’re talking about over 3,000 cases that would have to be tried separately.” A Gimenez spokesman also noted a 2011 amnesty ordinance adopted by Miami-Dade commissioners has forgiven about $22 million worth of fines and penalties for homeowners.

Broward County did not reduce any fines for Uber or Lyft when it recently agreed to change its taxi and limousine laws to allow the companies to operate legally, county spokeswoman Kimberly Maroe said. “The penalties/fines issued to Uber drivers have been paid,” Maroe wrote in an email Monday. “There never was a settlement for fines issued to drivers. If there is an outstanding fine per se, the county would follow through with the enforcement process.”

I wouldn’t call it forgiving.”

Alice Bravo, Transportation director

As it ramped up operations in Miami-Dade, Uber told drivers it would pay fines incurred from county authorities. In an email sent to drivers on Nov. 4, 2014, Uber offered several tips to avoid detection by officers patrolling the airport, including to “keep your Uber phone off your windshield” and to ask passengers to sit in the front seat.

Commissioner Dennis Moss, a longtime Uber critic, said he’s against waiving fees for a company that opted to flout county regulations.

“They made a conscious decision to violate the rules,” Moss said, “and I think they need to pay the full ride.”

Uber and Lyft representatives were not available for comment Monday evening. Lyft drivers face about $144,000 in outstanding fines and would be subject to the same settlement provisions, Bravo said.

Both companies allow passengers to hail and pay for rides using cellphone apps, and rely on a pricing model that increases and lowers fares based on demand. The companies also use an unlimited number of freelance drivers, who drive their personal vehicles.

They made a conscious decision to violate the rules, and I think they need to pay the full ride.”

County Commissioner Dennis Moss

As a result, Uber and Lyft can’t operate under taxi rules, where fares are regulated, the vehicles must be yellow and equipped with meters and licenses to operate are capped.

Miami-Dade commissioners have resisted the kind of legal changes Uber and Lyft need to operate. Commissioners in Broward did too, and then Uber and Lyft cut off their services in the county. Furious passengers flooded commissioners with complaints, prompting passage of legislation that mostly delivered what the companies wanted in terms of regulations.

“The prospects for approval are very good because it’s obviously a service Miami-Dade residents and visitors have been using, and continue to use,” said Michael Hernández, Gimenez’s spokesman.

Moss, the county commissioner, said he doubted Miami-Dade would ultimately thwart Uber.

“I’m sure we’re going to work out something,” he said. “They’re here. They’re not going anywhere.”