Ride sharing companies, commissioners play nice

First ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber were freely whizzing around Miami. Then they were banned. Then they were un-banned. Now they’re figuring out how to make it work.

Tomorrow the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners meets to hammer out issues like driver insurance and background checks. Ride-sharing companies and local government have long been at odds over how much regulation is needed to make the service safe, not just cheap.

“I think the main goal is to flush out all of the pieces of legislation that have been offered,” Commissioner Esteban L. Bovo, Jr. said. “There have been a lot of ‘workshops’ that haven’t really gone anywhere and so this will be the first one when it’s just the commission dealing with this.”

Bovo’s plan has three main proposals: to allow ride-hailing companies to conduct their own background checks and submit them to the county on request, to only provide insurance coverage for a driver when he is driving a passenger, and to excuse them from the chauffeur’s license requirement.

Ride sharing companies are pretty happy with this, which means the work with local government can finally move from conflict to collaboration.

“The commission hasn’t gotten to the workshop process in a while,” said Lyft ‎Public Policy Communications Manager Chelsea Wilson. “We’re excited to see it come to this stage.”

Uber is on board too. “Commissioner Bovo’s proposal would increase access to transportation option and expand flexible work opportunities in our community,” Spokesman Bill Gibbons said in a text message.  

That Bovo’s plan is the one commissioners opted for shows that they’re becoming more willing to have the conversation about ride-sharing. They chose his plan over a much stricter one from Commissioner Jean Monestime. His would have required Lyft and Uber drivers to obtain a chauffeur’s registration and receive wheelchair and stretcher transport training as well as American Red Cross Standard First Aid training, just as taxi drivers do.

Bovo’s plan can still be amended, but its starting point is far more lenient than Monestime’s.

But last week’s shootings in Kalamazoo, Mich., have given commissioners’ some pause. An Uber driver killed six people in one night in between picking up passengers.

“In light of what happened in Michigan, I would imagine lot of conversation about that, particularly in regards to the background checks and if it could it have been stopped or not stopped,” Bovo said.

Uber declined to respond to questions about whether the incident would hurt their standing in this week’s workshop.

Also on the agenda is staging at airports and seaports — currently, only registered taxis can.

Taxi company representatives are expected to be at the workshop as well to understand how proposed regulations will affect them. They’ve been feeling the strain since the introduction of ride-sharing companies.

“Of course [Lyft and Uber] have impacted our business …  the taxi drivers are not making the same money and when the low season comes in March and April,  I don’t know how they’re going to survive,” said Mayelin Hernandez, a representative of Miami-based taxicab company Checker Cab.

“We get most of our business from ambassador cars,” she added, referring to the type of taxis currently allowed to service the airport and seaports.

While there’s no public testimony time on the schedule, the public is welcome to attend. You can also watch the live-stream here. And you still have at least a couple weeks to weigh in – the proposal is expected to be up for a vote in March. (We have all the information you need on your commissioner right here.)

“We want people to contribute their opinions, but what I don’t want is the meeting to turn into a taxi industry calling Uber something and vice versa. I want a conversation that speaks to how can this happen, and if it can happen, how does it become part of our global transportation conversation,” Bovo said.

*Disclaimer: Lyft is a sponsorship partner of The New Tropic, but was not involved in the planning of this story.