Lyft and Uber won the Miami transit world in 2016

All week we’re going to be looking at people, companies, and organizations who dominated their sectors in 2016. Other winners: Kairos (tech), Swire and Brickell City Center (real estate)

First ride-hailing companies like Lyft and Uber were zooming around Miami lawlessly. Then they got banned and fined. Then they got un-banned.

This year, after a three-year saga, ride-hailing companies and the county finally figured out how to make it work. That’s why we’re naming it the biggest transit win of 2016.

Yes, our public transit is slowly getting better, but there are still huge swathes of the county not accessible – and few of them easily accessible – by transit. Ride-hailing has filled a gap that existed between taxis people couldn’t afford and the affordable but often tedious or inconvenient public transit.

On May 3, 2016, after a packed, nine-hour county commission meeting, the commissioners voted to legalize the ride-hailing companies in a 9 to 2 vote, ending the standoff with Lyft and Uber.

The compromise was a requirement that ride-hailing companies conduct their own background checks and submit them to the county on request. They also have to provide insurance coverage for a driver when they are driving a passenger. They also don’t need a chauffeur’s license requirement.

Lyft and Uber were pretty jazzed about it. But taxi companies weren’t.

The very next day, they filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Miami-Dade County. The taxi companies say that now the value of their medallions have plunged, and the county owes them the amount they’ve lost.

But it’s not an easy suit to win — a similar one was defeated in a New York court. The suit is still moving through the Miami-Dade County court system. And the county commissioners are pretty set on keeping the ride-hailing companies around.

“We think it’s a major step in addressing the transportation needs in our community and in figuring out a way to give folks options without having to take their car on a daily basis,” said county commissioner Esteban Bovo, commission chair and chair of the Transit and Mobility Services Committee.

“We’re enthusiastic and the board supported it, but there’s still an issue with regards to the fines that have not been settled. We hope that’s something taken care of in an expedited fashion.”

For Lyft and Uber, the demand just continues to grow. Both launched their own shared-ride option this year and Uber also launched Uber Eats, a food delivery service.

For Bovo, next year “priority number one, two, and three is transportation.”

“How do we deliver real transportation options in 2017?,” he asked. Lyft and Uber are some of those options, but Bovo also stressed that he’d like to strengthen the county’s public transit systems.

“[Let’s] not talk just talk about it, but actually move the dial on two components: funding and pick one of the 6 corridors on the SMART plans and move on them. Let’s talk less and do more in 2017.”

The future of ride-hailing and Miami-Dade County is far from smooth sailing. The taxi company’s lawsuit is still moving through courts. And Lyft and Uber still have to fight this battle county by county, so they’re pushing now on a statewide law that legalizes the ride-hailing services.

Beyond that, both Lyft and Uber are already making plans for rolling out a fleet of self-driving cars. Lyft previously said the first phase of their autonomous vehicles will be available by early next year, nationally, and most of their cars will be driverless in the next five years.

This year Uber put self driving cars on the road in Pittsburgh. They tried to also expand to San Francisco but after an Uber blew through a red light, the California DMV demanded it stop testing out the technology immediately.

We might see some autonomous vehicles on our roads pretty soon because Florida’s one of the only states in the country to allow driverless cars on the road, anytime, anywhere.

Bovo also hinted that the mayor’s office was in talks with ride-hailing companies to begin rolling out test pilots in Miami-Dade County, but couldn’t offer specifics. Neither could Lyft or Uber.

“I’m waiting to see how this gets rolled out. There would have to be some legislation to protect the consumer,” he said. “It’s a little scary to think how fast the future is upon us but we can’t bury head in the sand. We have to embrace it, deal with it, and move on.”

Lyft is a sponsor of The New Tropic but was not involved with the planning or production of this story.