Uber, an App-Based Car Service, Fights to Change Miami's Transportation Laws
Travis Kalanick is a very busy man. Sitting on an overstuffed couch in the library of the Soho Beach House, the CEO of the San Francisco-based "digital dispatch" app Uber is feverishly typing away on his phone, in the midst of handling affairs at his rapidly growing startup. He rises to greet his cocktail reception patrons and smiles broadly.
Courtesy Image Not quite yet, Miami.
"We need to have [Uber] cars here for [Art] Basel," he says. "It's gonna be a shit show."
If all goes Kalanick's way, that's what'll happen: Uber will bring its private car service to Miami, whisking locals away at a moment's notice. But the company is up against some daunting roadblocks. Uber is what Kalanick refers to as a "populace limo service," and he and his team are fighting Miami's existing transportation laws to bring their services to Dade County.
If Kalanick is victorious, Miami residents can have a private car en route with the touch of a smartphone button. How very transpo-forward. If not, the company will have to move on to another town.
Imagine this: You're stranded in no man's land without a cab in sight. You open the Uber app, choose your vehicle du jour based on proximity (check the ever-updating map, complete with estimated arrival times), and order up. The GPS on your smartphone lets your driver know where you are even if you don't. The service gives you a call when your driver is nearby, which, if Uber gets the kind of circulation in Miami that it has in 35 other cities across the country, shouldn't be more than 15 minutes. Your credit card is uploaded to the app upon downloading it, so no need to touch your wallet when you arrive at your destination. According to Kalanick, it's a cashless cab alternative made easy.
So what's the holdup? Behold, limo laws, designed in part to protect taxi services. According to the Uber blog, the company is in a bit of a rut as far as Miami-Dade legislation goes. For starters, there's a one-hour minimum wait time rule for private cars. If you order one at 4:06 p.m., you can't legally enter the car until 5:06 p.m., effectively defeating the usefulness of the insta-ordering system that is Uber. Price points are also an issue: Any sort of private car transport currently requires a $70 price minimum, no matter the distance. Doling out a paycheck for a piggyback seems a little much.
And finally, there's a limit of town-car licenses in Miami-Dade (625 to be exact). Kalanick argues that eliminating this cap could create thousands of jobs, as Uber's driver positions are open to application for anyone. "They go through a background check, city knowledge test, and professional assessment," Kalanick says. "Partners drive their own cars." That makes Uber, essentially, a middleman. It's the connection between the partners (third-party vehicle owners and car companies) and their riders, or as Uber puts it, a "digital dispatch scheme."