Miami-Dade County

Uber wants to keep a secret: its number of Miami-Dade drivers

A screen shot of the Uber app, when activated in downtown Miami.
A screen shot of the Uber app, when activated in downtown Miami.

After Uber won a three-year battle to create a law allowing it to operate in Miami-Dade, the ride-hailing company hasn’t been eager to embrace it.

While its main rival, Lyft, applied for the temporary license Miami-Dade began issuing in late May for app-based car services, Uber balked at the new route to legalization. Instead, Uber requested a custom-made process that would let it skip a step and secure a permanent license.

Miami-Dade didn’t issue one, and county regulators have cited company drivers 96 times since county commissioners passed the pro-industry bill legalizing ride-hailing services on May 4 . “They were still illegal because they still hadn’t put in for their permit,” said Emilio González, director of Miami International Airport.

Uber eventually filed for a temporary license last week, and was granted one on Monday night. But the San Francisco-based company asked county officials to break with past practices and keep its fleet size confidential.

Late Tuesday, Miami-Dade’s Transportation Department released a redacted version of Uber’s July 7 application that blacked out the number of vehicles it has operating in the county. Multiple sources said the redaction was at Uber’s request, with the company citing competitive issues.

They were still illegal because they still hadn’t put in for their permit.

MIA director Emilio González on dozens of citations for Uber drivers since Miami-Dade legalized ride-hailing services in early May.

“We’re excited to have our preliminary license to operate in Miami-Dade,” Uber spokesman Javi Correoso wrote in a statement. “While we were hoping to get our permanent license, and applied for it in the days following passage of the ordinance, we look forward to continuing to work with Miami-Dade County as it finalizes [the] process that once and for all gives Uber a permanent home.”

County rules for the temporary licenses require that ride-hailing companies disclose the number of vehicles operating in Miami-Dade. In its application for a temporary permit, Lyft reported 3,362 vehicles using its app-based hailing system — the firmest fleet count ever from a company that had previously said it had “thousands” of vehicles in Miami-Dade.

Late Tuesday, Miami-Dade’s Transportation Department released a redacted version of Uber’s July 7 application that blacked out the number of vehicles it has operating in the county. A source said the redaction was at Uber’s request.

Uber previously said it has between 10,000 and 12,000 cars in Miami-Dade. Two sources said Uber’s application with the county is for a fleet between 9,000 and 10,000 vehicles.

Privately, Uber lobbyists cited competitive concerns in having to reveal just how large its fleet was in Miami-Dade. The numbers disclosed in the permits show Uber with about a three-to-one advantage over Lyft in Miami-Dade, reflecting Uber’s dominance nationwide in the ride-hailing industry.

Lyft’s first application on May 20 included a baffling number for its fleet, covering only 254 vehicles. At the time, both companies were grappling with new county rules requiring each of their freelance drivers’ personal vehicles to be certified by local mechanics before they could be included in the permit. Lyft’s amended application, filed June 7, was for the 3,362-vehicle fleet.

The temporary license also requires companies to pay $26 per vehicle, but Uber seemed willing to overpay in order to keep its fleet size hazy. When Uber initially asked to skip the temporary permit and acquire a permanent license, it did not disclose a fleet size and offered to pay a fee that would cover exactly 12,000 vehicles. Miami-Dade rejected the request.

Because final rules have not been announced for the permanent licenses, Uber had hoped Miami-Dade would only require ride-hailing companies certify fleet size within a broader range, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The backroom tension over Uber’s paperwork belies the sweeping victory its local lobbying team won two months ago when commissioners approved a rewrite of the county’s for-hire laws to allow app-based providers to compete with taxis. The passage brought broad changes in how both Uber and its smaller competitor Lyft operate.

Where the companies’ freelance drivers used to ask customers to ride in the front seat to avoid looking like a car for hire, passengers in Miami-Dade now routinely hop in the backseat like they would a taxi. And while discretion was the theme before Miami-Dade’s new law, drivers for both companies now post Uber and Lyft placards on their windshields, as required by the county ordinance. Uber’s first week of legalized Miami-Dade service brought Uber Eats, a food delivery service.

Dennis Moss, a top Uber critic on the county commission who likened the company to “gangsters” for flouting local laws while building a thriving business in Miami-Dade, said he was surprised to hear Uber hadn’t taken advantage of the new law until this week.

“I had thought everything had been resolved,” he said, “and they would be following the rules.”

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