Miami-Dade County

Uber launches TV ads in showdown with Miami-Dade commission

A screen grab of a television ad Uber that targets Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan, a longtime critic of the company.
A screen grab of a television ad Uber that targets Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan, a longtime critic of the company. Uber television ad

Uber is targeting three Miami-Dade commissioners with new television ads as it readies for next week’s legislative showdown over legalizing its popular ride-hailing service in Florida’s largest county.

A trio of warm TV spots touts Uber as a service popular with Miami-Dade’s elderly and African-American populations. Each ad closes by asking viewers to contact the targeted commissioners and urge them to support legalizing the app-based competitor to traditional taxis. Each ad features one of three commissioners: Barbara Jordan, Daniella Levine Cava and Xavier Suarez.

Jordan, who represents a largely African-American district north of Miami, is considered a likely no vote on the pro-Uber legislation up for a final vote Tuesday before the 13-member commission. Levine Cava and Suarez, whose districts include Miami’s southern suburbs, haven’t committed publicly to a position on the bill, sponsored by Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo.

The ads come as Uber and its smaller competitor, Lyft, try to lock down enough votes to for the Bovo bill. While a majority of the commission looks ready to legalize the ride-hailing services, there’s a rift over whether to require drivers to submit to fingerprint screening as part of a criminal background check.

“I think the battle lines will be drawn over the vetting of the drivers,” said Diego Feliciano, president of the South Florida Taxicab Association, a group lobbying against the Bovo bill.

Miami-Dade released the latest version of Bovo’s bill Tuesday afternoon. It would let Uber and competitors sell rides in an unlimited amount of private cars hailed by cellphones, with the companies able to charge what they want. Current Miami-Dade law limits hailing to taxis, which operate under a capped number of licenses and must charge county-regulated fares. The bill also allows taxi companies and ride-hailing providers to screen their own drivers, dismantling the current system of Miami-Dade approving would-be cabbies for licenses.

Uber and Lyft have fought fingerprint screening in most jurisdictions, but Houston and New York City require it. Some commissioners argue Miami-Dade needs fingerprinting to protect passengers from encounters with criminals. Uber argues its record checks will flag the same criminal histories while allowing the company to quickly hire drivers to sustain a fleet of some 10,000 cars — dwarfing the roughly 2,000 cabs licensed to operate in Miami-Dade.

Uber has promised to abandon Miami-Dade if commissioners require fingerprinting, raising the possibility of the county legalizing ride-hailing and then losing the service. Uber and Lyft pulled out of Broward County last year when commissioners adopted regulations the companies opposed, then returned when officials reversed course and adopted a pro-industry ordinance.

The Miami-Dade ads started last week on cable stations, a company representative said, and feature interviews with Uber users and drivers touting what the service has meant for them. The one with Jordan interviews African-Americans, including Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert. “I primarily use Uber because it allows me to get reliable transportation,” Gilbert said in the spot.

Levine Cava and Suarez’s districts do not have outsized elderly populations, but the ads targeting those commissioners featured older customers raving about Uber.

“I’ve heard my grandchildren talking about it,” one unnamed woman said in the ad, “and I finally got a smartphone. The first thing I did was find out how to get on Uber.”