ICYMI – Sun Sentinel Editorial: Florida Uber, Lyft bill good for consumers

Transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft have upended the taxi industry and for good reason — their services are typically cheaper and more enjoyable.

It’s why state lawmakers should approve bills proposed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, to create statewide regulations for ridesharing companies and prevent county governments from imposing regulations that squelch competition.

Statewide standards for insurance coverage and driver background checks make sense. After all, it’s not uncommon for Uber or Lyft drivers to cross county lines. A patchwork of local regulations could create barriers at the border.

A similar bill failed last year, but because of a change in Senate leadership, Brandes believes it stands a much better chance this year. The proposal would have Florida follow “national guidelines” for Uber and Lyft background checks and insurance requirements.

“The taxi industry is pretty much the only hurdle,” he said. “Everything else we can work through.”

The taxi industry is bitterly fighting the proposal, arguing it gives transportation network companies an advantage. County governments have long regulated taxi cabs, setting their rates, determining how many can be on the road, requiring background checks and demanding services such as the ability to accept credit cards or serve disadvantaged people and neighborhoods.

Former state senator Ellyn Bogdanoff, who is lobbying on behalf of the Florida Taxicab Association, argues that “transportation is a local issue. When things don’t go right in the transportation world, people expect local officials to respond.

“We think (this bill) is a dangerous route because most county commissioners would tell you what happens in Dade County is very different than what happens in Broward or Palm Beach County.”

Without question, Miami-Dade and Broward are different universes. But consumers in both counties have spoken in unison about their desire to preserve access to ridesharing services. In opposition have been those who work for taxi companies, an industry that for decades has held considerable sway with county commissioners.

Facing strong competition, many taxi companies have introduced smartphone apps similar to Uber’s, though a major price differential remains. Taxi rates can sometimes be double those of Uber, a legitimate issue for the taxi industry to address with county commissioners.

Bogdanoff points out that taxi companies have higher expectations placed on them, and higher expenses, too. They pay property taxes on their facilities, for example. Uber, by contrast, uses independent contractors who use their own cars and work when they choose.

Brandes says if the taxi companies seek a level playing field, he’d be happy to strip local regulations and have statewide guidelines for taxis, too.

In the past, taxi companies have welcomed local regulations — including some they’ve helped draft — because they’ve helped keep competitors out of the market, preserving their monopoly. In Palm Beach County, Yellow Cab is the only company allowed to service the airport, for example.

“Historically they’ve controlled the market,” Brandes said. “Now, they have this new entrance they can’t control.”

Taxi companies are in a tough spot. If they support deregulating their own industry, they risk losing market share to smaller cab companies. But times have changed. The internet and technology have given birth to a disruptive business model. And there’s no going back.

Rather than fight what consumers want, the taxi industry would be better served to support an approach that lets them lower their prices and remain competitive.

This post originally appeared at: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/editorials/fl-editorial-uber-regulations-20170125-story.html