Shakira Chauffeur Emilio Izquierdo Fights Miami-Dade's Limousine "Mafia"
|Michael E. Miller|
|"I'm a safe driver!" Emilio Izquierdo has permits out the wazoo, but not the one he needs to work in Miami-Dade.|
For five years, the 62-year-old Cuban has fought to operate his 2005 GMC Yukon as a luxury limo sedan for celebrity clients including Colombian pop star Shakira.
But the county has ignored his pleas, instead slapping him and others like him with thousands of dollars in fines for driving without the proper permit.
"All I want is my piece in the American pie," argues the loquacious Izquierdo, who says he didn't survive a Cuban concentration camp just to end up a "slave" for a big limo company in Miami. Five years ago he founded the Florida Independent Limo Drivers Association (FILDA) to lobby the county to change its permit policy.
FILDA's beef is with Miami-Dade's Consumer Services Department (CSD), which issues limo permits to large limo companies as well as individuals. But Izquierdo says the permit game is rigged against the little guys, and he just might be right.
Since 2000, Miami-Dade has held three lotteries for new limo permits. But by county code, two-thirds must be given to companies or individuals that already own at least one. In other words, the system is set up to let big firms grow, not allow new competition.
Even worse, little guys like Izquierdo are priced out. Although lottery contestants can enter up to ten applications, each one costs $100. "That's $1,000 just for the chance to get a permit," says Izquierdo, who submitted single, unsuccessful applications in 2006 and 2008. "I can't afford that."
But large limo businesses can, drastically improving their chances. And they can also afford to buy permits directly from other companies for the going market rate of $12,000.
The county isn't scheduling any new lotteries either. "The recession has hit all industries pretty hard, including limo services," CSD spokesperson Sonya Perez says. "Right now, there's not enough demand for the existing supply of limos."
Izquierdo says there is plenty of demand, just not from the big companies the county prefers to deal with.
Unless his 5-year-old proposal to create a new category of permits for owner/operators gets a sudden breath of fresh air, the chauffeur has little choice but to keep on breaking the law -- and racking up fines -- with each client he picks up in Miami-Dade.
"To them, I'm the bad guy creating problems," Izquierdo says. "But the county just doesn't like me because I'm not corrupt, like they are. I want to work for myself -- that's it."