Uber, Lyft here to stay; make them legal

For months, taxi cab drivers in Miami-Dade have protested against Uber.
For months, taxi cab drivers in Miami-Dade have protested against Uber. MIAMI HERALD

The future of ride-for-hire services in Miami-Dade County, chiefly Uber and Lyft, will be tackled on Wednesday when, in an unusual scenario, commissioners will present dueling proposals at a public hearing in front of the entire County Commission.

Expect a packed chamber as fervent supporters of Uber and its threatened competitors, taxi cab drivers, face off over how to regulate these services — a dilemma that has vexed Miami-Dade for the past 18 months. Already, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has threatened a veto.

For nearly nine months, County Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr., head of the Transportation and Mobility Committee, says he, his staff and industry players have been formulating a legislative solution to the feud.

Technically, these companies’ services are not legal in Miami-Dade. That hasn’t stopped thousands of satisfied customers from using them. They use citizen-drivers who arrive within minutes, in clean vehicles, and get passengers where they want to go in a flash. Better yet, the transaction is cashless, with payment made through a cellphone app. Converts swear they’ll never go back to taxis.

This genie is out of the bottle and barreling down the road. Commissioners, long under the sway of the monied taxi-cab industry, can’t put it back. Nor should they try. Rather, they should follow Mr. Bovo’s lead. He recognizes that the 30-year-old taxi regulations are outdated. Mr. Bovo’s proposal smartly puts ride-for-hire services, taxis, limousines and others under one umbrella of “21st-century” regulations, Mr. Bovo said in a news release. All of them would have to:

▪ Obtain a county license.

▪ Regulate their own drivers, requiring a valid driver’s license, English fluency and background checks.

▪ Offer apps that allow riders to contact them and track them via mobile phones. Uber and Lyft already provide this service. Taxis, too, would have to.

▪ Have mechanics conduct inspections and certify vehicles as safe.

It’s a well-thought-out plan, but it might not please the taxi industry, which has been shaken to its foundation by the disruptive upstarts.

We understand its unhappiness with having the rules changed, but the industry has failed to keep up with 21st-century expectations. It was like pulling teeth to get taxis to install credit-card scanners for passengers’ convenience.

Still, they have found a champion in Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Jean Monestime. In what some call an 11th-hour move, Mr. Monestime unveiled a rival proposal — an unusual move. Typically, commissioners consider one proposal and vote up or down.

Chairman Monestime’s ordinance would require Miami-Dade to screen Uber drivers the same way it does taxi operators and impose the same 24-hour insurance coverage that is currently required for cabs. Under Mr. Bovo’s proposal, insurance is required only when drivers are on the clock. Makes sense.

“If Commissioner Monestime’s proposal passes, Uber will not be able to operate in Miami-Dade,” Uber spokesman Bill Gibbons told the Editorial Board. The company issued a similar threat in Broward, which resisted, then relented.

There is no denying that much of the public has fallen in love with the ride-for-hire experience. And Uber is using that goodwill to muscle through the most advantageous proposal. Mayor Gimenez says he’ll veto the chairman’s proposal should it eventually pass. It shouldn’t.

Mr. Bovo’s plan makes all of these services hew to the same regulations. It’s the fairest proposal yet and a better way to travel into the 21st century.