Make Lyft, Uber legal in Miami-Dade

Last month, I had the privilege of meeting with the Herald’s editorial board. During our meeting, I discussed my vision for mass transit in Miami-Dade County. My staff and I have been working diligently to bring some of these ideas to fruition. This week, the Miami Dade County Commission will begin considering a proposal that would legalize, app based, ride-sharing entities like Uber and Lyft.

Legalize, you ask? Yes. Thousands of residents have used these applications, referred to in my legislative proposal as Transportation Network Entities (TNE’s), to instantly hail a safe and affordable ride. What most of these resident don’t know is that these services aren’t exactly legal in Miami-Dade County. This has to change. Technology has revolutionized many of our daily chores, and the field of publically available transportation is no exception. These services offer residents a safe, reliable, and seamless method of “hailing” a ride 24 hours a day.

Our taxi industry is a closed, medallion based, for-hire monopoly. These “medallions” establish a property right and permit the medallion owner to place a taxi cab in service. The county has issued approximately 2,100 medallions which equates to one taxicab for every 1,100 Miami-Dade County residents.

While many medallion owners drive their own cab, most do not. Those who choose not to drive their own cab often lease their medallions to multiple taxicab chauffeurs for a fee. These fees, which average around $75 per day per driver, often place these chauffeurs in the untenable position of picking up enough fares to net an income.

In addition to the obvious benefits these ride-sharing applications offer to the public, ride-sharing promises to empower full-time drivers by offering them the opportunity to be their own boss.

I first became involved in this issue after meeting with several taxi cab drivers who described the hardships they endure as a result of our closed market medallion system. These drivers want what everyone else wants, the ability to earn a living and support their families.

In addition to full-time professional drivers, these app-based ridesharing companies offer part-time employment opportunities to those who want to make a few extra bucks. Just think of how many aspiring lawyers, doctors, actors, and artists will benefit from turning their car into a reliable revenue stream to help them make enough money to support themselves while in school.

Much will be said by critics of this proposal, and their arguments can best be summed up into two categories: equity, safety, reliability. The first issue, which drives all others, is the taxi industry’s claim that flooding the market with ride-sharing vehicles will devalue the investment made by cab owners when they purchased their medallions.

Make no mistake; these investments are quite substantial often exceeding $250,000 on the open market. While I empathize with those who invested in these medallions, this does not justify perpetuating what amounts to a monopoly, on the backs of our county’s residents. Because taxis and TNE’s provide two distinct services (taxicabs can pick up street hails and utilize the dedicated taxi-stands at the airport and Port Miami) there is no evidence to suggest that the value of these medallions will be adversely impacted. All investments involve risk, and the evolution of technology is one risk that investors must confront in an ever changing world.

On the issue of safety, under my proposal TNE drivers will be required to: pass a criminal background check, have their names run through the national sex offender registry, have a satisfactory driving record, and maintain liability insurance as required by state law. In addition to these formal requirements companies that do not provide safe and reliable service will suffer the wrath of the communities they serve. More importantly, these TNE’s have saved countless lives by keeping impaired drivers off the road. How many people have simply reached for their phone and summoned a ride after leaving a restaurant or nightclub after a night on the town?

In the end, legalizing these app-based services is a no-brainer. Cities like New York and Washington D.C. have embraced services like Uber and Lyft, and Miami-Dade County should follow them into the 21st century. I encourage anyone reading this to contact your county commissioner and encourage them to support my proposal. I remain committed to finding safe and efficient mass transit solutions, and it is my hope that these app based ride-sharing services will encourage more residents to leave their cars at home when traveling to the many attractions our County has to offer.

Esteban Bovo, Jr. represents District 13 on the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners. He is vice-chairman of the board.