Miami Herald: Delay in approving luxury-car service Uber an “embarrassment”

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Uber, the innovative digital luxury-car transportation service, is not coming to Miami for at least another year, according to Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald.

One Miami-Dade County commissioner’s efforts to deregulate the luxury-vehicle transportation industry so Uber can get a toehold in the region are on hold for now. Two high-ranking colleagues blocked the attempt by Commissioner Audrey Edmonson.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez, an Uber supporter, has been marketing Miami-Dade as a hub of high-tech innovation. He calls the delay “an embarrassment to the city.”

“We’re trying to position ourselves as technology leaders and entrepreneurs,” Gimenez told the Herald. “If it doesn’t go through, it’s a black eye on Miami-Dade County.”

Edmonson would not specifically identify the two blocking the initiative, but both Bruno Barreiro and Dennis Moss made it impossible for her to reach the first procedural hurdle.

“We just don’t want to come into the 21st century,” she told the Herald.

Uber does not hire drivers or provide cars. Instead, Uber uses an app as a form of digital dispatcher to connect a fleet of independent drivers with people looking for rides. Drivers bid on rates for trips and Uber gives the drivers a percentage of the fare.

Moss, who chairs the transportation and aviation committee, helped write the current regulations. He is the one who must approve Edmonson’s proposal before presenting it to the full commission.

Moss resisted legislation to remove the cap on luxury-car permits, to adjust minimum fares to be in line with taxicabs, and to eliminate the need to pre-arrange rides at least one hour in advance.

“If you want to pay for a luxury ride, then you should basically have to pay for a luxury ride,” Moss told the board in November. “That way we make sure that cab companies can also continue to make a living.”

Barreiro, who is the committee vice-chair, opposed providing a limitless number of permits for sedans typically dispatched by Uber—limousines and luxury cars. Miami-Dade has 626 permits.

“I think it has to be a number,” Barreiro said. “What is that number, I don’t know, but it shouldn’t be carte blanche.”

Uber, as well as taxicab and limousine permit owners in South Florida, have lobbyists to look out for their interests, Mazzei writes.

Uber, which has expanded rapidly in the U.S. and internationally, has been lobbying Miami-Dade for almost two years to remove regulatory barriers so the San Francisco-based company can start servicing customers. It is already in 31 cities, including Jacksonville, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

Detractors accuse the company of working outside of established regulations for taxis and other transport services; as an example, they point to “surge” pricing during peak times.

Spokesperson Nairi Hourdajian believes Uber will soon be able to bring its service to Miami-Dade.

“Nothing’s changed in that the consumers and drivers in Miami are still clamoring for Uber,” Hourdajian told the Herald. “The path forward may remain unclear, but our ambitions for Miami as a company have not changed.”

The Miami Beach City Commission passed a resolution Jan. 15 advising the county to consider allowing Uber to operate in the city.

Since there are only four committee members, the opposition of Moss and Barreiro was enough to derail Edmonson’s proposal.

Facing opposition, Edmonson deferred a vote on the issue in November, later withdrawing the legislation. Taxicab companies supported the withdrawal.

There is the chance she can rewrite her plan, but it would become too watered down, Edmonson told the Herald.

“If it had gotten to the full BCC (Board of County Commissioners),” she said, “it would have passed.”

The next step is to wait for changes in committee membership. Without an extraordinary action by Chair Rebeca Sosa to change the committee’s makeup during her two-year term as committee head, the board will not change until next year, after naming a new chair.

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Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.