Don't tell the thousands of tourists and locals who hop into Ubers or Lyfts every day in Miami, but the rideshare services are still technically illegal in Miami-Dade County. For more than two years, the tech firms and local politicians have been locked in a tug-of-war with millions of dollars and the future of for-hire transit in South Florida on the line.
That could all end today. County commissioners are scheduled to vote this morning on a plan from Commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo to legalize the services and revise county rules for all cabs and rideshares. After weeks of slick TV ads and mailers, Uber believes it has the votes to get it done.
"I'm a strong proponent of multiplying the number of vehicles for hire in Miami," Commissioner Xavier Suarez tells New Times. "I'm inclined to go with Commissioner Bovo's recommendation because it would do just that."
That's not to say Uber won't face some hitches in the commission today. Two major hurdles loom. One is fingerprinting — after an Uber driver went on a rampage in Michigan, several commissioners backed calls to require fingerprinting and background checks for all of the company's drivers, a restriction that New York and Houston already have on the books.
But Uber has also resisted that rule in other places — notably Broward County. When commissioners there tried to require fingerprints, the company briefly pulled out of town, and the politicians blinked. They dropped the plan and allowed Uber and Lyft to operate legally there.
There's also the matter of all the fees the companies have racked up by technically operating illegally since 2014; the Miami Herald pegs the total fees at $3 million. The companies are likely to ask forgiveness as part of the county's new framework. Suarez says he's not sure how that will play out.
"I assume they will work out a deal to pay those fees off over time," he says. "We will have to see how that argument unfolds."
Taxi unions, meanwhile, have argued that Uber and Lyft are unfairly sinking taxi businesses because they have to pay for expensive medallions to operate in the county.
Uber's history in Miami largely matches how the tech firm's business plan has unfolded globally. In 2014, the app rolled out in Miami — regulations be damned. County Mayor Carlos Gimenez at first played tough, ordering $2,000 fines for each driver caught working for Lyft or Uber and ordering police to confiscate their cars.
But Gimenez soon softened his stance as riders embraced the technology. Not that it's been a totally smooth ride for the companies. Uber has been the target of widespread ire for huge surge fees during Art Basel and New Year's Eve and — through no fault of the company — made national news when a young doctor trashed a car in a recent viral video.
More recently, Uber has rolled out a serious advertising campaign ahead of today's vote:
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In the end, Suarez says, he believes Uber will find support in the commission because the service has brought needed innovation to the local for-hire industry.
"The technology these guys bring to bear has really worked for customers. You'd have thought taxi companies would have already evolved in that direction, but when you have a monopoly, innovation suffers," he says.