Last month, Ashton Kutcher made an unplanned cameo during a Florida Senate Transportation Committee meeting, when lobbyists played a clip of the Two and Half Men star and Uber investor on Jimmy Kimmel Live blasting Miami for not changing long-standing laws to accommodate the upstart car service.
"Basically, it's like mafioso, like village mentality of like we're not gonna let the new guy in," the actor said. "Like in Miami."
Diego Feliciano might be considered one of those mafiosi. Feliciano is the president of the South Florida Taxicab Association. A man who got his start more than 30 years ago as a cab driver, Feliciano says Uber seeks to skim the top off taxis' business while potentially threatening service to those who can't afford the app.
Uber Car Service App Versus Miami Taxis
"I just don't see the taxicab industry existing in Miami-Dade County if someone gets to do what we want to do and not doing what we have to do," he said in a recent interview with Riptide. "It's just not a fair playing field."
For the uninitiated, the venture-capitalist-backed San Francisco startup allows users to pull up an app on their smartphone and order one of its cars. Current Miami-Dade law regulating town car services, however, makes it nearly impossible for the company to operate here. After failing to find traction to repeal those laws on the county level, Uber has unleashed an aggressive campaign in the state legislature with about 20 lobbyists.
Feliciano says Uber could have disastrous effects by unleashing a new fleet of unregulated cars to compete with taxis. Many drivers, especially those who own their own cabs and have shelled out for pricey permits, are financially bound to their cabs. They're also mandated to drive passengers anywhere in the city and must abide by fixed prices. "These cab drivers now are not only losing because they've got all these unregulated vehicles competing directly with them, but then they're also losing the cream of the crop of the business," he says of Uber's hypothetical entrance into the market.
Of course, the taxi industry, particularly in Miami-Dade, has been rightly criticized for being apprehensive to change. Long after most other major American cities required cabs to accept credit cards, the county commission passed such an ordinance only earlier this year.
"We're moving forward. We supported these ordinances," Feliciano says. "We need charge cards — not in some cabs, in all cabs."
One cab company, Super Yellow, has already partnered with the app Fly Wheel. The free app allows users to hail a cab, track the taxi's progress, and pay for the transaction through their smartphone via credit card. He estimates it already makes up about 20 percent of the company's business.
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In fact, Feliciano says, he could imagine Uber's app entering Miami-Dade if the company agrees to work with existing taxis. However, he says Uber has refused several times to meet.
"If Uber came into Miami-Dade County and put their app on our cabs, we'd love them," he says. "Why not? Just follow the rules."
As for Kutcher, his appearance didn't stop the original version of the "Uber bill" in the Florida House from getting gutted. A version that would still provide a road to Uber's operation in Miami passed its first committee last week, but a Senate version has yet to find similar traction.