Lyft and Uber are finally legal

Everyone’s got an opinion on ride-hailing in Miami-Dade.

And at yesterday’s packed, nine-hour county commissioners meeting, we heard them all, on everything from ensuring public safety to car insurance.

Taxi, Lyft, and Uber drivers filled the chambers to speak. The discussion went on so long it began to seem like they might kick the decision down the road yet again.

But at the end of hours of explanations, outbursts, and even commercial breaks, Lyft and Uber were officially legal in Miami-Dade County.

In a 9 to 2 vote, county commissioners passed a bill sponsored by Commissioner Esteban “Steven” Bovo, with Commissioners Bruno A. Barreiro and Daniella Levine Cava voting against it. (Missing at the meeting were commissioners Jose “Pepe” Diaz and Javier D. Souto.)

“We must integrate new technology and and keep looking toward the future,” urged Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

“At some point taxi drivers have to make a living,” countered Commissioner Barbara J. Jordan, who stressed that if ride-hailing is regulated by the county, it must promote parity and a level playing field, a sentiment echoed by several other commissioners on the board.

The ordinance, supported by Lyft, Uber, and Mayor Carlos Gimenez, allows ride-hailing companies to conduct their own background checks on drivers and submit them to the county on request.  It also allows ride-hailing companies to continue offering insurance coverage only when drivers are logged in the respective app, and it does not require a chauffeur’s license to continue operations.

The decision brings to an end a debate that caught a huge amount of public attention. In the weeks leading up to the meeting, hundreds of written comments poured into the offices of the 13 county commissioners.

It’s been a long convoluted road for the companies, who both launched in Miami in the summer of 2014. Since then, the ride-hailing companies have been technically operating illegally. Because of that Lyft and Uber drivers have been charged almost $3 million in fines, which during yesterday’s meeting Mayor Gimenez also hinted could be negotiated down.

The proposal will go into effect in 10 days — which means Lyft and Uber, can continue operating as they have been, this time sanctioned by the law of Miami-Dade. It also means they won’t be racking up any more fines in citations so long as they continue issuing background checks and offering insurance when the app is active.

“Through the reasonable regulations adopted today, Commissioners have struck an appropriate balance that prioritizes both public safety and consumer choice,” wrote Lyft’s ‎Public Policy Communications Manager Chelsea Wilson in an e-mailed statement.

“We applaud the Miami-Dade County Commission for voting to create a permanent home for Uber and ridesharing in Miami-Dade. Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Gimenez and Commissioner Bovo, Uber will continue operating across South Florida, creating opportunities for flexible work and greater access to safe, reliable, and affordable transportation options,” wrote Javi Correoso Uber’s public relations manager for Florida in an e-mail.

As for taxi companies — well, they’ve got some stiff competition.

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