Your View: No drivers should be left behind

Raymond Francois was a taxi driver for many years and has been head of the New Vision Drivers Association of Florida since 2003. Niel “Dziner” Homy is an Uber driver with many years in the hospitality industry. They wrote in partnership with the Community Justice Project.

Taxi drivers in Miami-Dade County are facing what feels like the worst moment in the history of the transportation industry. Since the arrival of Lyft and Uber, our income has become a laughingstock, with many of us facing a 50 percent decrease in earnings. It is becoming almost impossible for the drivers to make ends meet.

We have to pay $500 to $700 per week to lease a medallion, depending on whether we own the vehicle.On the top of that we have to pay $38 every three months for vehicle inspection, $2 per trip for picking up at the airport and PortMiami, $65 per year for licensing, $2.70 per trip for a cash discount (money paid back to any customer who pays in cash), and other fees. We often experience harassment and overzealous targeting for tickets and fines at the hands of law and code enforcement officers.

We represent the New Vision Drivers Association of Florida, Inc., a member-led association of taxi drivers and Lyft and Uber drivers who are committed to advocating for decent and fair working conditions. No matter what system we are working in, we believe the worker should have the ability to work in safety and dignity.

This is why we support the entry of new companies like Lyft and Uber to give more choice to the worker, but we ask that they respect our rights too as drivers. We are nervous that our ability to continue earning a living depends on the ratings of customers who may not know that with Uber, for example, a driver can be deactivated (dismissed) if his or her rating falls below 4.6 stars. But we get little training at the beginning to set us up for success. We don’t have the ability to question the reason for our deactivation. There is no way we can appeal that decision. So when we put our credit on the line and get a nice car to be able to earn more as Lyft or Uber drivers, not having these basic protections is scary.

At the same time, our job is among the 10 most dangerous jobs in the United States, based on statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and the lowest paying among the top 10.

Since 2003, the Association has been advocating and calling for better working conditions for those drivers, but their demands have mostly been ignored by Miami-Dade County officials, who have made a mockery of the drivers recently with a policy calling them “Ambassadors” of the county. The name covers up the reality that they are making poverty earnings from their work.

The moment of truth is now. Tomorrow the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners is considering ordinances that will affect the livelihood of drivers and their families deeply.

The commission is considering not only an ordinance to legalize Transportation Network Entities (TNEs) — companies like Lyft and Uber — but also other ordinances to change the taxi and limousine systems.

The taxi ordinance takes away what few rights we had by eliminating the requirement for a written agreement, and the TNE ordinance includes no provisions that would actually give drivers some basic work protections.

This doesn’t make sense. The moment of upheaval in the for-hire transportation industry presents an opportunity to design a system that actually works for the public, drivers, and the county alike. As an Association, we cannot continue to support working with the current “medallion system” that created an apartheid system which only benefits a few.

Instead of having to continue to pay unreasonably high amounts to the middleman for the right to drive and work in Miami-Dade County, taxi drivers should be able to lease a non-transferable permit directly from the County. Meanwhile, the County should not be silent on implementing a program to account for single medallion owner-drivers who could been heavily impacted by a change in policy. We have put together a petition for both drivers and supporters to sign to ask the County to come up with a system that finally works.

The Association is not against legalizing the TNEs, but those ride-sharing companies should not get a blank check from the County. The County should take into account the treatment of those drivers as well. The costs of insurance and inspection should be the responsibility of the TNE. They should take care of proper background checks and give drivers protections against deactivation (dismissal) without notification or the ability to appeal.

With that said, New Vision Drivers Association of Florida, Inc., wants nothing more than the progress of Miami-Dade County. Authorities should build a real system that will fundamentally benefit all parties including the people of Miami-Dade County, the TNEs, the cab industry and the visitors, while ensuring the highest-quality taxi service at the airport, sea port, and on the street.

When taxi drivers are finally able to work in dignified conditions, free from the yoke of taxi companies, the quality of taxi and ride-hailing services are sure to markedly improve and be far more efficient. We believe that Miami-Dade County Commissioners have the capacity to figure out a way of coexistence between the TNEs and the taxi system and to treat them fairly without impartiality.

Your View is a recurring series of opinion pieces from members of The New Tropic community. To share your ideas, goals, and work about Miami with the community in a Your View piece, please submit it to [email protected]