License to Drive? Florida Lawmakers Take on Digital Transportation Regulations

By: William Patrick FloridaWatchdog.org | Posted: March 24, 2014 3:55 AM
Uber iPhone

Uber iPhone app

Local governments, be warned. Your license to regulate transportation innovation soon could be revoked.

Technology companies offering alternatives to traditional limousine and livery car services are getting help from some friends in high places.

After years of being effectively locked out of some of Florida’s largest transportation markets, companies like Uber, Ride Command, Sidecar, Lyft and others soon could find themselves in the driver’s seat.

That’s if the Florida Legislature approves a pair of bills sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and state Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa. The proposed legislation would strip local governments of their ability to regulate “chauffeured limousine” services and place that authority in the hands of the state government.

But don’t be fooled. Brandes’ bill, SB 1618, wouldn’t apply to just limousines per se, but to any nonmetered vehicle with four or more doors, hired in advance. That excludes taxicabs, but applies to a range of other options perfectly suited for companies like Uber — whose Washington, D.C., office on Monday will receive a visit from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Based in San Francisco, Uber is an online firm that connects drivers and passengers through a digital app, or smart phone application.

Once selected, drivers arrive by tracking a rider’s cell phone signal. Passengers also can follow drivers’ locations on their mobile devices. Customers choose from economy cars, SUVs or even luxury vehicles. Pricing can be predetermined and fares split among multiple riders.

“Uber is magic, you press a button and you get a car,” Justin Kintz, Uber’s public policy manager, told Watchdog.org.

The firm doesn’t directly employ any drivers or own any cars, but partners with licensed local drivers looking for more business. For that, the company takes a 20 percent cut for “lead generation.”

It’s a good deal for drivers, Kintz told Watchdog.org. A license and the right vehicle equates to a well-paying job, with some in some large cities making up to $100,000 a year, he said. A Craigslist ad touts $30 an hour for qualified drivers in Tampa.

Facilitating faster, cheaper services along with the potential for more jobs with higher pay, hasn’t exactly been met with a welcome mat. Uber may have a foothold in 85 different markets, but not so much in the Sunshine State.

“Uber is only live in Jacksonville right now,” Kintz said. “We’d love to be in Miami, Tampa and Orlando and a lot of other markets, but we’re unable to because they’re making it impossible for our business model to work.”

In January, political brinksmanship at the Miami-Dade County Commission killed an attempt to strike several seemingly arbitrary restrictions against digital transportation companies.

Miami-Dade is Florida’s most populous county, with a large tourism industry to boot, but local regulations cap limousine and “black-car” licenses at 625.

“Clearly, the cap was put in place to benefit the folks who are already in the market and who own the licenses,” Kintz said.

Miami-Dade also requires a minimum fare of $70 regardless of the travel distance, and further requires a one-hour wait time from the moment a reservation is made to when a passenger can ride in a licensed vehicle.

Orlando has a $35 minimum fare and one-hour wait time. Tampa has a $50 minimum fare, which was instituted in 2012 by the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

For good measure, Brandes filed an amendment Wednesday to an unrelated agricultural bill that would put special districts, such as HCPTC, on the wrong side of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act for “restricting the right of the public to freely bargain for lawful livery transit services.”

Entrenched transportation interests aren’t going down without a fight.

Mears Transportation Group, a large Orlando-based firm founded in 1939, commissioned a poll in February, with the support of the Florida Taxicab Association, and found 78 percent of Floridians believe Uber should be regulated like taxis and other transportation providers.

The poll surveyed 3,024 Floridians in four metropolitan areas Jan. 7-Feb.13, with a 1.8 percent margin of error.

Mears further reported that Uber would underserve minority communities, the elderly and low-income residents.

But Uber is singing a different tune. “When you look at these types of regulations, there’s no benefit to consumers. They only benefit incumbent players,” Kintz said.

State House and Senate hearings will be held this week at the Capitol.

Contact William Patrick at wpatrick@watchdog.org.

Tags: News, Politics

Comments (4)

H.E. "Pete" Ashley
9:44PM MAR 24TH 2014
Let free enterprise do it's thing and the consumers will weed it out.
H.E. "Pete" Ashley
9:42PM MAR 24TH 2014
Let free enterprise do it's thing and the consumers will weed it out.
Orlie Jedwab
2:19PM MAR 24TH 2014
Doesn't the state generally want local government to legislate their own county? Doesn't it make sense that each county understands what works for them? We’ve had Home Rule in Miami-Dade for decades, and this bill completely ignores that. Why is the Florida Legislature getting involved in this issue when there are SO MANY other issues needing to be addressed, and why is U.S. Sen Marco Rubio visiting the Washington offices of Uber on Monday when this has nothing to do with FEDERAL policy?

There is nothing "magic" about Uber. There are many apps available just like Uber's. It's just that they don't have the MILLIONS of dollars from backers like Google or from spokesperson investors like Ashton Kutcher.

It’s interesting that Kintz never states or the question is never posed as to why Uber is finding such resistance and skepticism of its business model in Florida and beyond. Is it possible because they refuse to work through licensed companies and make tons more money putting their own systems in place. Someone has to pay off those big investors. Small businesses can't compete on an unfair playing field.

You're correct in your reporting that Miami-Dade is Florida’s most populous county, with a large tourism industry. The number of "black-car” licenses that you refer to is examined by a committee appointed by the Consumer Services department. The committee discusses many items that impact our industry including the number of existing licenses. Just prior to our "Uber" fight this summer we were in the process of cultivating a lottery based on a "growth formula", not just some arbitrary number that works for Uber.

Yes, there are minimum rates in the counties you mentioned, but they are posted and can't be deviated from. Unlike Uber that can "surge price" at any time that's advantageous to them, but completely unfair to a public that is dealing with disasters like Hurricane Sandy. This is just one of the reasons Uber’s the subject of scores of lawsuits seemingly everywhere they go. Add taking advantage of passengers in times of need to the accidents and the lack of responsibility for any of their drivers’ actions.

There should be a correction made on the wait time in Miami-Dade County, as the code was changed to decrease the wait time from 1 hour to 15 minutes.

Your article states that "Mears (Transportation) further reported that Uber would underserve minority communities, the elderly and low-income residents" and that Kintz, Uber's representative stated that, "When you look at these types of regulations, there’s no benefit to consumers". How is it that laws that protect underserved minorities, the elderly and low-income residents are of no benefit to this population and that "these laws only benefit incumbent players”?

I don't get it!

Orlie Jedwab
President, Key Transportation Service
Fran k
8:12AM MAR 24TH 2014
We have far too much regulation now. STOP trying to control everything ...

Honestly, our government is PATHETIC!!!

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