Level the road for Uber, Lyft and taxis

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Advocates for the cab industry monitor a county session in February on proposed ride-hailing rules.
Advocates for the cab industry monitor a county session in February on proposed ride-hailing rules. Miami Herald Staff

A broad spectrum of Miami-Dade residents has already voted: Uber and Lyft are an absolutely fabulous option in this transit-challenged community. At Tuesday’s highly anticipated meeting, are Miami-Dade commissioners really prepared to tell them that they’re wrong?

That would be regressive and foolish — debasing the notion that this is a world-class community. Right now, drivers for these ride-hailing services are doing their jobs illegally. The passengers who have flocked to them are aiding and abetting a criminal act — just for having the nerve to want to get from Point A to Point B safely, quickly and, mostly, cheaply. Enough.

These ride-hailing services not only should be made legal in Miami-Dade, county officials should consider them a vital component in expanding the transportation options beyond what satisfied customers already have taken advantage of. County Mayor Carlos Gimenez envisions Uber and Lyft easing the “first-mile-last-mile” problem for many travelers who can’t make it to or from their destination when taking public transportation.

For their part, however, the services, which in the past have resisted certain county requests to ensure passengers’ security, need to play ball, too.

The taxicab industry has fought long and hard against Uber and Lyft — while being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Its drivers not only should have a more level playing field on which to compete against the insurgent services, but also use any break that commissioners grant them to up their game to attract passengers whom, to be honest, industry practices have driven to the new guys in town.

The commission will consider Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr.’s proposal to legalize ride-hailing services. Under his plan, the county would play a less significant role in screening for-hire drivers. Commissioner Bovo’s proposal would put the responsibility on taxi and ride-hailing companies to screen potential drivers for any infractions and criminal offenses in their past.

This one needs some discussion. The county must make passengers’ safety its No. 1 priority. Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava would like to see fingerprint checks for all drivers. Good idea. If the county is going to relinquish screening, then it must have some access to companies’ records in order to assure consumers that there is an impartial watchdog. “The county is providing approval and cannot divorce itself from the industry entirely,” Ms. Levine Cava told the Editorial Board.

Still, unlike with taxicabs, there is an instant record, via the ride-hailing app, as to who is driving whom. A driver’s ID is immediate and traceable.

County-provided customer-service training for taxi drivers would be scrapped; medallion holders should get some special consideration. The proposal would require taxis to use the same type of ride-hailing cellphone app that is at the foundation of Uber and Lyft’s successful business model. If the taxi industry has any smarts at all, it will realize that this could be a boon for its drivers. Of course, the industry was reluctant to install credit-card machines in cabs — and cabbies still tell too many passengers that the machines are “broken — cash please!” Plus, that up-to-an-hour wait after calling a taxi? Not very world class.

There’s another safety issue that commissioners must consider: Ride-hailing services take people who have had a couple of drinks off the road; they ferry harder-drinking revelers who should not be behind the wheel; they give parents peace of mind that their teens will get home safely.

Commissioners can’t put the brakes on ride-hailing services in Miami-Dade. But they need to provide clear and fair direction.