Feature: An Uber Controversy

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Gays react to decision to leave Broward County

The Broward County Commissioners probably had no idea their restrictions against ridesharing services like Uber would spark a grassroots backlash against them. In response an online petition was started, garnering more than 75,000 signatures, and Uber announced they were suspending their operations in the county on July 31.

And that’s when all hell broke loose — to say the least.

SFGN reached out to several gay drivers and riders to get their opinions of the restrictions set forth by the commission and Uber’s decision to pull out of the county.

“I am upset with Uber for caving in to Broward County. They should stand up and fight this nonsense,” said Kevin Harris, a frequent Uber user. “I am disappointed with them.”

All nine of the commissioners voted for the new transportation network company law, which legalizes Uber’s business model, but also forces drivers to obtain county chauffeur registrations. The commission also put other restrictions in place including level II background checks, additional fines, and gave the county attorney the authorization to go after TNCs by any legal means necessary (see graph).

Oakland Park resident and Uber driver Bob Darrow has already gotten his chauffeur license, but said it was a pain in the ass to do so.

“The bureaucracy is incredible. It took me two months to get it,” Darrow said. “I was at the office for 4 hours. I can’t imagine what will happen when 2,000 people descend upon the county offices.”

For now the regulations will be here to stay – at least until the commission comes back from recess in September.

Public safety was a common theme of the commission on why they were placing these restrictions on Uber and other ridesharing companies. Uber though called the new regulations “onerous,” and is pulling out of the county.

Meanwhile many Uber supporters, including riders and drivers, cite these reasons for using Uber: safety, cleanliness, convenient, and inexpensive.

“Broward County officials implemented one of the most onerous regulatory frameworks for ridesharing in the nation,” Uber said in a written statement. “We have no choice but to suspend operations on July 31. We hope the Board of County Commissioners will revisit the issue when they return from break and work with us to bring Uber back to Broward."

Since Uber pulled out another ridesharing service, Lyft, announced they will suspend operations in Broward on July 31 as well.

“[The commission] is throwing every roadblock they can think of to keep Uber from operating in this county,” Harris said.

As for those safety concerns Harris shrugs them off saying he believes Uber is actually more than safe than taxis.

“I feel 100 percent safe. When I order Uber they tell you the name of the driver. I have a picture of driver. I know his license. I have his phone number. I have a description of the car. I can call him and text him directly,” Harris said. “So how is Uber not safe?”

Lori Lyons, a member of the community, who is the marketing director for Yellow Cab, argues, “This is not a gay and lesbian issue. It is a public safety issue. No one is trying to kick Uber out of Broward County. They were approved on April 28. If they leave, it’s on them. We are simply asking that they abide by the rules. We want an even playing field. People need to know that regulation is necessary and proper to protect the public.”

But safety concerns were not the reason why Harris decided to switch to Uber in the first place. Instead it was several bad experiences with taxis that prompted him to stop using taxis.

“The taxi services provided by Broward County companies are inferior,” he said.

One service that taxis do offer though is preordering, which Uber does not offer.

“I have pre ordered a taxi the day before and they still show up an hour late,” he said. “Every single time I have ordered Uber they are at my pick up location within 5-7 minutes. They are never late.”

Even more enticing though is the price — usually an Uber ride is less expensive than a traditional cab.

Not everyone feels what the county did was wrong though.

Daniel Sohn, an openly gay candidate for Dania Beach mayor, agrees with the commission’s decision to regulate Uber, and other TNCs.

“As a candidate who believes in safety I side with the county commission on their decision,” he said.

Ever since the county’s decision Sohn has been hearing from angry constituents upset with the county, but he’s urging them to instead express their frustration directly to Uber.

“Uber is a billion dollar company, they just don’t want to accept the regulations,” he said. “If Uber hears from all of their users ‘you’re the reason why I can’t get to work,’ that might persuade them to make the right decision.”

For Sohn the right decision would be for Uber to accept the county’s regulations in order to keep their drivers and customers safe.

But even Sohn has changed his mind after learning more information. Initially he felt the level II background checks were appropriate. Now he says a level I background would be sufficient.

Another openly gay politician, Scott Herman, however disagrees with the commission.

“Broward County Commissioners should not be out to help create a monopoly with taxi services,” he said. “They should be pro jobs, pro community, pro less bureaucracy, pro less red tape and pro business. I believe the county commission was wrong. They failed the community with too much red tape.”

While riders will certainly be inconvenienced, drivers will lose their livelihood.

For Darrow and Fort Lauderdale resident Sean Samson, Uber is the perfect way to supplement their income.

Samson is a full time preschool teacher during the school year and since summer started he’s been working full time for Uber.

“I’m disappointed in our local government for not embracing innovation,” Samson said. “This is the perfect job for someone who wants a rewarding career that doesn’t pay very much. I can make $100 an hour during special events.”

With the suspension looming Samson has no idea how he’ll extra money going forward.

“I’m currently job searching,” he said.

Darrow is a full time real estate agent.

“It’s really an outstanding part time job. I have the ability to just turn on the app to work whenever it’s convenient,” he said. “I can work as much or as little as I want. I have the ultimate flexibility.”

But if Uber accepts these new regulations this part time job will no longer be worth it.

“Seventy percent of drivers are part time — working 10 to 30 hours a week,” Darrow said. “Requiring them to have commercial insurance, which can be $1,000 a month is crazy.”

Another part timer Uber driver, K.C. Guy, has a slightly different view.

“Sometimes private businesses can fulfill roles better than our government. Florida’s current weekly unemployment is $275,” he said. “Even out of season you can make double that as a full-time Uber driver. Between more gainful employments, Uber helped me to pay my bills on time. It’s unfortunate that the Broward County Commissioners are voting away what could be viewed as a social safety net for the residents of Broward County.”

Even though County Commissioners are claiming safety concerns are the primary reasons for their strict regulations, Uber supporters are flipping the script on them, by claiming safety as a reason to support the ridesharing industry.

As a driver Guy loves picking up drivers who were too drunk to drive on their own. It gave him a sense of pride.

“As an Uber driver, I loved hearing, ‘I am too drunk to drive so I called Uber.’ Hearing that made me feel proud of the work I was doing,” Guy said. “If Uber is pushed out of Broward County, could one in ten future drunk driving fatalities in Broward County be attributed to the vote of the Broward County Commissioners?”

According to Uber the company has seen a reduction in DUI arrests in the cities where they operate. Some news organizations have also noted this. However the Washington Post points out:

“Any number of other things may have changed in the city over the last few years affecting DUI arrests. It's possible police have changed how they conduct DUI stops and arrests, or that public pressure on them to crack down on DUIs has ebbed with time. Other changes in public transit service may have impacted alternative routes that bar-hoppers take home.”

Samson also shares Guy’s concerns.

“I fear DUIs will go back up,” he said.

There are many riders who would never use a traditional taxi service and Darrow believes ridesharing companies are bringing new customers to the marketplace. Many of those folks, he said, aren’t going to automatically switch to taxis if Uber is not available.

“They would ordinarily drive,” he said. “Uber has pulled people into the marketplace.”

Drew Zyla, a Palm Beach County driver, said the Broward suspension wouldn’t affect his job since he’ll still be able to drive through the county and/or drop off riders within Broward.

But that could change soon as well. In March of this year the Palm Beach County Commission narrowly passed, with a 4-3 vote, to an agreement that allows Uber to continue operating through September 31 while staff works out how to best regulate the ridesharing service.

Zyla hopes the backlash against the Broward commission will serve as a warning to Palm Beach County to think twice before attempting to overregulate the service.

“It’s such a great service for people. I don’t understand why anyone is against it,” he said.

The Broward County Commission is out of session right now so a possible reconsideration of the new laws won’t take place until at least September. But for now the commissioners seem confident in their decision. Since the controversy erupted they have mostly expressed shock at the backlash and have defended their positions.

The county also sent out a press release “The Facts About Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) in Broward” clarifying the new regulations and emphasizing the county’s commitment to public safety (see below).


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The Facts About Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) in Broward

County Press Release

On May 4, 2015, Broward County Commissioners approved a regulation that allows transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft, to legally operate in Broward County. It consists of three basic rules: provide safe drivers, safe vehicles and the same insurance that state law already requires. The new regulation is less stringent than those Uber operates under now in New York City and Houston and it meets all TNC demands for non-interference in fares and the number of vehicles allowed.

The action followed months of research, discussion and debate, with public comment from TNC officials, their employees and representatives, and other drivers for hire. In conjunction with the regulation, as an added convenience, Broward County expedited the TNC/driver permitting process, providing for online regulation and printable temporary chauffeur licenses.

Here are the facts:

Broward County welcomes TNCs to our community. The County Commission's proactive adoption of TNC regulations has created an environment in which TNCs can operate legally and safely.

The County Commission's primary concern is with public safety. The TNC requirements rely on independent regulation, instead of self-regulation.

The County's TNC regulation complies with Federal Trade Commission guidance. It contains fair and reasonable requirements focused on passenger and driver safety and security.

Requirements of the ordinance do not force TNCs to either provide substandard service or leave the market, just as more stringent regulations required by other jurisdictions have not forced Uber to abandon popular markets such as New York City or Houston.

Broward County remains open to continued conversations about appropriate regulations that help TNCs flourish, but also protect public safety.


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