On-demand car service Uber fought and lost a battle in Miami-Dade to ease restrictions that forbid it from operating in the county, so now the company has taken its fight directly to Tallahassee. Uber has enlisted a pair of Republican legislators to file bills that would override the local regulations that impede its operation in Miami.
Uber allows customers with a smartphone and credit card to order a chauffeured car on demand from an app. To ensure that supply never overcomes demand, the company charges more during peak usage times.
The problem is that Miami-Dade has several regulations that prevent other chauffeured car services from competing with traditional taxis. For example, riders must wait at least one hour between when they order a non-taxi chauffeured car and when it arrives. Drivers must charge more than $70 per hire, and cars must be hired for at least two hours. Essentially, Miami law relegates non-taxi hired car services to the realm of traditional limos.
Uber partnered with Commissioner Audrey Edmonson to repeal these laws last year, but ultimately that measure was pushed aside in favor of modernizing (somewhat, anyway) Miami's traditional cabs. In January, the county commission finally passed an ordinance that required all cabs to accept credit cards, long after it became de facto in most major American cities.
Uber has also been impeded in taking its service to Tampa and Orlando; so far, it operates only in Jacksonville.
So now the company has announced on its blog that Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Jamie Grant, both Republicans, have introduced legislation that would essentially override all of those local restrictions with new state laws.
Current Florida law specifically regulates the power to "license and regulate taxis, jitneys, limousines for hire, rental cars, and other passenger vehicles for hire" to local governments. The bills would carve out a specific exception for Uber.
Here's the money shot straight from the Senate version of the bill:
The Legislature intends to provide a uniform statewide level of regulation of emerging transportation technology to provide stability and predictability to businesses seeking to implement such technology, to provide convenience and safety to the traveling public, and to enhance personal mobility. Accordingly, the regulation of chauffeured limousines, chauffeured limousine services, and drivers of chauffeured limousines is hereby preempted to the state. Further regulation thereof by a county, a municipality, or any other political subdivision of the state is void.
So, basically, the bill would take powers away that have belonged to counties for ages.
Granted, Miami-Dade's reluctance to require taxis to accept credit cards until 2014 shows the county might not have its citizens' and consumers' best interests in mind with regard to these issues.
On the other hand, the bill would take what has long been a local issue and put its fate in the hands of legislators across the state, many of whom represent districts that will likely not see Uber for a long time. It would also make it more difficult for individual counties to tweak laws regarding Uber to whatever works best locally.
Of course, Uber urges you to contact your state legislators to support the bill.
We suggest first contacting your county commissioner so it doesn't come to that.