Miami-Dade County

Uber getting special zone at Miami International Airport

A screen capture of the Uber app when activated in downtown Miami.
A screen capture of the Uber app when activated in downtown Miami. Miami Herald File Photo

Uber drivers will go from clandestine arrivals at Miami International Airport to having their own advertised zones outside the terminal as Miami-Dade County moves toward officially sanctioning ride-hailing services.

Uber, which claims more than 10,000 vehicles in Miami-Dade, has long encouraged its drivers to hide their tell-tale windshield cellphone mounts and ask passengers to ride shotgun in the front in order to avoid detection and fines from MIA inspectors. But Monday marked the first bureaucratic step toward legalizing Uber and its smaller competitor Lyft in Miami-Dade, with the county’s Transportation department inviting applications for ride-hailing licenses.

Called “transportation network entities” in the County Commission ordinance passed on May 3 by a 9-to-2 vote, Uber and Lyft had not yet filed applications as of Monday afternoon, a county spokeswoman said. But as the companies get their paperwork together, county officials are preparing for the legalization of services from two San Francisco-based companies that have built healthy businesses in Miami-Dade while operating illegally since the summer of 2014.

County officials said it could be weeks before Uber or Lyft officially passes legal muster and obtains a license to operate in Miami-Dade.

The new ride-hailing ordinance went into effect Friday, 10 days after passage. County officials said it could be weeks before Uber or Lyft officially passes legal muster and obtains a license to operate in Miami-Dade. One hold-up: The companies must wait for thousands of drivers to obtain certifications of mechanical inspections required by the new law.

While the companies technically remain on the wrong side of county law, they’re still operating and are in talks with county administrators on how to comply with the new legislation and how some of the specific measures will be implemented.

The most visible changes contemplated come from MIA, which is ready to roll out designated zones for Uber and Lyft passengers.

MIA spokesman Greg Chin outlined rules that continue to give taxis and Super Shuttle vans their prime curbside real estate when it comes to picking up passengers on the lower level outside the baggage-claim area.

Passengers can hop into taxis or the shuttles a few steps from the terminal at the start of the airport’s ground level. But Uber and Lyft will be limited to the outermost curb on the arrivals level, and must delay pick-ups until about halfway down Concourse D, Chin said. (In the MIA alphabet, there are no longer terminals A through C, so D marks the beginning of the airport.)

Our goal is to decongest the curbside area.

Greg Chin, MIA spokesman

Specifically, the Uber zone on the arrival level, outside of the baggage-claim area, begins at Door 5 of Concourse D and runs through the end of the terminal, at Concourse J. The curb rules also mean personal vehicles can continue using the middle curb, while Uber and Lyft will be relegated to the sidewalk area closest to the parking garage, Chin said.

“Our goal was to decongest the curbside area,” Chin said.

For the upper level of the airport, where departing passengers are typically dropped off by taxis, friends and family, the rules for Uber and Lyft will be much more flexible. Uber and Lyft drivers may pull up to the curb, and can drop off passengers anywhere that personal vehicles already use. Should a passenger want to be picked up on the departures level, Uber and Lyft will be limited to an area stretching from Concourse D’s Door 7 to J.

Javi Correoso, an Uber spokesman in Florida, said the company’s app now tries to make MIA logistics easier by asking passengers to enter a terminal door number when identifying a pick-up location.

Other aspects of the law remain in flux for MIA. So far, the airport has not provided Uber and Lyft drivers a special lot where they could wait for passengers. Access to a staging lot is a sticking point for taxis and Super Shuttle, which see Uber and Lyft as significant threats to their airport businesses.

The law also requires Uber and Lyft to establish digital tracking for an airport zone that will ban drivers from accepting new customers while still within a short distance of the airport. The idea is to discourage Uber and Lyft drivers from adding to congestion by circling the terminal. Under the law, Uber and Lyft must leave the airport area and return after dropping off a passenger, rather than picking up a new customer on the same trip.