As a rule, we support the right of local government to regulate commerce, including various forms of public transportation, providing the rules broadly comply with standard practices as adapted to local needs and circumstances.
That applies to start-up companies like Uber and similar ride-sharing services, like Lyft, but there is a fine line between regulation and over-regulation, as may have happened in Broward County.
These app-based services have proven themselves in the rigorous arena of the marketplace by fulfilling a public demand for a different personal transportation service, and they have a strong measure of public acceptance in markets where they operate.
Yes, Broward County, like Miami-Dade, Key West and other local governments elsewhere, have a duty to ensure that these types of services catering to the public are safe and operate in a responsible manner.
And yet Broward’s trailblazing effort to welcome the ride-sharing service industry — it is one of only two Florida communities and one of 50 in the United States to do so — apparently came to a screeching halt this week.
After Broward first rolled out the red carpet, what Uber calls “onerous” measures were recently imposed by the county, prompting Uber to announce it will stop operating in Broward on July 31.
At first, commissioners accommodated Uber with a special ordinance and insisted mainly that state insurance laws be followed, complete with fingerprint background checks on Uber drivers.
A second county ordinance, passed in April, called for heightened regulations and fines against Uber drivers. Uber saw that as rolling back the carpet. Ultimately, the company said such requirements go against their business model based on thousands of drivers signing up.
Uber is not a traditional taxi service; it’s something else. It has struck a chord with the public, a largely younger group of people who have turned their backs on the traditional hired-ride business model — a bitter pill for the taxi industry.
These younger customers complained of rude taxi drivers, no credit card payment, unkempt taxis. They wanted something different than what the market was offering, and someone gave it to them.
Imposing highly restrictive rules, as Broward commissioners seem to have done in this case, represents a disservice rather than a benefit for consumers, who complain that the governing body is caving in to established business interests – conventional taxi and limo companies – instead of allowing fair competition.
In Miami-Dade County, elected officials have gingerly expressed support for the ride-sharing services, but they’ve also faced pushback from a taxi-medallion holder industry fighting for its survival.
The question is whether what happened in Broward will happen in Miami-Dade, where Uber and Lyft are illegally operating while the county figures out how to regulate them.
We hope not. Miami-Dade should harness Uber and Lyft — as should Broward — but there’s a limit to regulation, especially when it comes to these millennial-minded enterprises.
Uber and Lyft, by their very nature, are disruptive forces in the marketplace. That reflects the impact of innovation, which should be welcomed. There is no good reason for the people of South Florida to be denied a service finding increasing acceptance by consumers across the country.