Miami-Dade County

A secret no more: Uber’s Miami-Dade fleet officially at 9,478 vehicles

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

The size of Uber’s Miami-Dade fleet didn’t stay confidential for long: The ride-hailing company obtained a permit to legally put nearly 9,500 vehicles on the streets.

With Uber hinting it might sue over release of the fleet size, Miami-Dade officials on Tuesday declined a Miami Herald request to provide the full application for the license that the ride-hailing company obtained late Monday. But after Uber reportedly sent word it wouldn’t sue to block turning over the full documents, Miami-Dade on Wednesday provided the Herald an unredacted copy of the July 8 application showing Uber registered 9,478 vehicles.

That’s slightly lower than what Uber had said publicly in the past, with company officials previously describing a Miami-Dade fleet between 10,000 and 12,000 vehicles. County permitting rules require ride-hailing companies to seek a license only for vehicles certified by local mechanics, so Uber and its smaller competitor, Lyft, could face sanctions if it applied for a larger number of vehicles than had been inspected at the time.

The newly disclosed number officially gives Uber less than a three-to-one advantage over Lyft, which on June 7 registered to have a Miami-Dade fleet of 3,362 vehicles. Both of the San Francisco-based companies employ the same business model: freelance drivers using personal vehicles to ferry passengers who book and pay for their trips using the company’s app.

Because drivers routinely sign-up to ride for Uber and Lyft, the permitted number most likely reflects a cap on fleet sizes for both companies. Miami-Dade requires ride-hailing firms to pay $26 per licensed vehicle, and Lyft has amended its permit to reflect a larger fleet as more vehicles were certified by mechanics.

Though they only recently obtained licenses to operate in Miami-Dade, both companies have been doing business in the county since summer 2014. Uber controlled most of the market, with its drivers accumulating $3 million in fines while the company’s lobbyists pushed to change Miami-Dade’s taxi laws to accommodate the ride-hailing model. County commissioners approved the pro-industry bill in early May, legalizing ride-hailing services as “transportation network entities” or TNEs. Despite the win, Uber delayed pursuing a temporary permit in part out of concern about the fleet-disclosure requirement, several sources said.

The company had hoped to skip straight to a permanent license, even though Miami-Dade has not finalized the rules for that license. Privately, Uber was pressing to have a permanent license linked to a range of fleet sizes, rather than a specific number. With Miami-Dade resisting that option, and county enforcers once again citing Uber drivers for operating without a license, Uber agreed to pursue a temporary permit last week.

In its application under a corporation called Raiser-DC LLC, Uber told county officials it considered its fleet size to be a “trade secret” exempt from Florida’s open-records law. “The information reveals the size of Raiser’s business in Miami-Dade County and would be extremely valuable to other TNEs and other competitors,” Uber lawyer Aaron Brand wrote on July 8. “I request that Department staff not disclose in a public forum any information derived from this application that could provide a third party with insight into the size of Raiser’s business in Miami-Dade County.”

After Miami-Dade issued Uber its temporary license on Monday, the Herald requested the paperwork. Miami-Dade provided a redacted copy on Tuesday at Uber’s request. At the same time, county lawyers were apparently warning Uber that the information was public and would need to be disclosed.

In a letter Uber sent to the county on Tuesday in response to the Herald’s request, the company said it “objects to the County’s decision to disclose” the fleet-size number, saying a Broward County court had already declared similar information confidential. The letter, written by Brand and obtained by the Herald, suggested Uber planned to sue but “will not be able to initiate a lawsuit” in time to stop the county from releasing the information.

There was no immediate explanation Wednesday on why the county opted to release the full document, but two sources close to the matter said Uber signaled it did not plan to sue over the disclosure after all.