Now that Uber has announced it will suspend operations in Broward effective July 31, Key West commuters are wondering if the island town could be the next domino to fall for the ride-sharing app in South Florida.
Last week, the city threatened to arrest any Uber drivers operating there. There have been no arrests yet, but city spokeswoman Alyson Crean says Uber drivers should heed the warning.
“Uber has, despite warnings, been actively recruiting drivers down here,” Crean tells New Times. “Complaints have been going through the roof, so we finally had to fully enforce the law.”
Uber launched in Key West in December amid opposition from local cabbies who claim the drivers should be forced to hold a mandatory city vehicle-for-hire ordinance, as do taxis. The city has 56 of those licenses, and all of them are already issued to taxi companies. (The licenses have been unavailable for more than 20 years.)
Crean says the city has been issuing warnings to Uber, as well as promoting an awareness campaign, over the past several months. But nothing has changed. Because of the undisclosed nature of Uber vehicles, any arrests will likely stem from citizens or cabbies who spot Uber drivers and call police to complain.
"If a cab driver is at a cab stand and he sees an Uber pick someone up, he may call the police," she says.
Taxi driver Ben Hudson, of Key West Taxi, says that he’ll be on the lookout but that he won't go out of his way to spot Uber drivers.
"They're just like any other fake taxi drivers," Hudson says. "We've always had them — during Fantasy Fest, on New Year's Eve — whenever there's a big event, people rent vans and try to make money off it. We call them scabs."
Hudson says he doesn’t think Uber could be sustainable on Key West anyway.
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“How are the drivers making any money?” Hudson says. “We’re such a small place, and they’re charging less than us. It doesn't make sense.”
But Uber continues to recruit drivers in Key West, as evidenced online, as well as tout demand and completed trips on the island.
"We're passionate about making your city better," the Uber Key West website reads. "That's why we partner with thousands of locals who keep Florida Keys moving. Together we're energizing the local economy, helping make streets safer from drunk and distracted driving, and fostering a more connected, less congested environment."
New Times has asked an Uber media contact for comment on the City of Key West's threats; we'll update this post if we hear back.