In the months since Uber and Lyft have set up shop in Miami and sparked a war of fines and impounded cars with the county commission, the battle lines have seemed fairly obvious. Commissioners -- backed by a powerful union of cab owners and medallion-holders -- oppose changing regulations to let in the app-based ride-sharing companies in. Taxi owners have lined up at commission meetings to argue that Uber and Lyft would put a stranglehold on their highly regulated and taxed industry.
But that doesn't mean all cab drivers feel the same. The New Vision Taxi Drivers Association of Miami, a group of 1,200 cabbies, has taken an official stance in favor of Uber and Lyft. Its president tells Riptide his members believe the competition would help everyone.
See also: Uber Car Service App Versus Miami Taxis
The association, which has been around since 2003, is advocating for ride-sharing apps as an opportunity to force improved regulations in the taxi industry.
"With Uber in Miami, taxi companies will have to change," Raymond François, the association's chairman, says. "Customers and drivers will go toward wherever the best service is."
François, a cab driver for the past 17 years, has seen the industry remain relatively unchanged during his time. Ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft have the power to shake up the system in a good way, he says.
That's the exact opposite of the view taken by the South Florida Taxi Association, which has openly opposed the service and claimed it could take away the taxis' highest-paying customers. That association, made up of cab owners, has been concerned about the county granting Uber and Lyft the right to run virtually unregulated.
"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," Diego Feliciano, president of the association, told Riptide in April.
Last week, the county commission gave initial approval to a proposal that would legalize ride-for-hire companies, but the measure will likely face stiff resistance when it comes up again in September. The transportation and aviation committee, which considers the motion next, has deadlocked in the past, meaning Uber and Lyft still have a long way to go before legalization.
Right now, Miami-Dade law regulating town-car services has barred Uber and Lyft from running legally in the county. These current laws, favoring taxi companies, require that customers order the car an hour in advance and pay a minimum $70. Licensing for town cars also has a cap at 625 cars, making it competitive to obtain the proper permits.
François and his drivers' union, though, say the regulatory laws that are in place favor taxi companies and medallion-holders at the expense of regular cabbies. He also said that while Uber-like apps could have potentially negative effects for the taxi companies, it isn't accurate to say the same for drivers.
"The county wants to keep Uber out to please the taxi companies that give commissioners money, but that doesn't mean it's what's best for the taxi drivers," François said. "We need something as big as Uber to affect the taxi system."
With Uber as a competitor, François says, taxi companies will have to improve their services by offering better technology and more regulations on the number of drivers who can work.
Otherwise, cab drivers will just start making the switch to working for Uber and Lyft. Drivers currently give about 80 percent of their earnings to taxi companies, according to François, while Uber drivers give about 20 percent.
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Each week, taxi drivers pay $550 to $750 to work for taxi companies and medallion owners. Drivers are also forced to pay those fees in advance if they are sick or have vacation planned. Otherwise, their job is not guaranteed for the following week. As for insurance, taxi companies cover only passengers, leaving drivers and their cars without any coverage.
With Uber, drivers pay the company only when they are working. The company also offers drivers and their cars full commercial insurance coverage from the moment they turn on their app and accept to give a ride.
"You can't squeeze the drivers and expect drivers to be happy with the customer service," François said. "Maybe with Uber as competition, the county and taxi companies will remember that drivers deserve to be treated as residents too."