Broward County commissioners on Tuesday passed a sweeping new law regulating app-based ride services such as Uber, despite the company's threat to leave town if they did.
The new regulations legalize services including Uber and Lyft, whose drivers use their personal vehicles. But the law left intact tough provisions that Uber said would make it impossible to operate in Broward.
Each driver will be required to register with the county, submit to a county-run fingerprint-based background check, and carry the heightened insurance state law requires for commercial vehicles for hire.
"We are disappointed at some of the decisions that were made today,'' Kasra Moshkani, Uber's South Florida general manager, said after the vote.
Later that night, company spokesman Bill Gibbons issued s statement that Uber can't follow the new law.
"We cannot operate in Broward County if such onerous regulations are enforced, and stand ready to reengage with the commission to bring more choice and opportunity back to Broward County.''
Commissioner Stacy Ritter said she disliked Uber's public relations campaign, which included emailing and mailing fliers to residents telling them the county was forcing Uber out with its regulations.
"If Uber leaves this county,'' she said after the vote, "It's Uber's decision to do so voluntarily. There's nothing in this ordinance that is onerous. Uber can comply with this ordinance without any problem. This is a company worth $40 billion, with a 'B.' If they can't pony up a few dollars for insurance, background checks and permits, then shame on them.''
Uber had hoped state legislators would have passed a law preventing local governments from regulating it, as well as setting insurance and background check requirements for drivers. But the House adjourned its session Tuesday without passing an Uber bill.
With the new laws, the county:
•Enhanced background check standards to "Level II,'' requiring fingerprinting. Uber representatives had said a "significant'' number of Uber drivers wouldn't submit fingerprints when Columbus, Ohio, implemented the rule. Any driver who applies for a license will be allowed to carry passengers under a temporary two-week license until the background check is complete.
•Scrapped a requirement for liability insurance for drivers, but required drivers to follow state law, which county officials said requires 24-hour commercial insurance. Uber currently has different insurance coverage that the county says leaves gaps.
•Upgraded vehicle inspection standards for all cars for hire, including Uber and cabs. Third-party licensed mechanics will give 19-point inspections.
•Raised the standards for drivers, excluding those with serious criminal backgrounds or poor driver histories. The law removed some of the subjectivity in granting the chauffeur registrations drivers must obtain.
•Stripped the county's Consumer Protection Board of some of its authority to grant chauffeur registrations to drivers who were rejected by county staff. The change was proposed by Commissioner Mark Bogen after the Sun Sentinel reported earlier this month that the Consumer Protection Board overruled staff in 62 percent of appeals, putting drivers with lengthy rap sheets, including violent crimes and DUIs, behind the wheel.
•Allowed Uber to field unlimited vehicles, with no restrictions on fares. Uber can charge less than the county-mandated cab fare, and can continue its "surge pricing,'' which is exponentially higher.
An overflow crowd filled the meeting Tuesday, split between Uber and taxi drivers.
Robert Bonner, the owner of Intercity Taxi, said he supported the additional regulation.
"If there's been one recurring theme, it's been safety. When people get into a vehicle for hire, they want to know someone has checked out the driver, someone has checked out the vehicle and that it has insurance. This is added expense, more red tape, more work involved. It's worth it.''
The debate over the past eight months was tinged with criticism of the traditional cab system in Broward, with riders complaining about dirty cars, rude, unreliable drivers who don't speak English well, broken air conditioning, inoperable credit card machines and late arrivals.
"It's the taxi industry that needs a kick in the butt, not Uber,'' Hollywood resident Doug Eney wrote to elected officials. "Services like Uber and Lyft are the only way the taxi industry in Broward will invest to really clean up its act.''
Dan Lindblade, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, said in a letter to Commissioner Chip LaMarca on Tuesday that he'd spoken with many hoteliers and restaurateurs who support Uber. He urged the county to find "common ground.''
"Our guests expect this type of solution to an otherwise mediocre traditional cab system,'' he wrote.
Uber's aggressive tactics turned off commissioners from the beginning. As it has done throughout the world, Uber refused to follow county taxi laws, simply paying fines when drivers were cited.
The company was not subtle.
Miami-Dade activist Darrin McGillis sent law enforcement officials this month an email from Uber Miami, advising drivers how to avoid detection at South Florida airports, where Uber drivers have been cited and fined.
The email said that "while we continue discussions'' with local officials, there are a few ways to make the airport trips "more enjoyable.''
"Keep your Uber phone off your windshield — put it down in your cupholder,'' the email said. "Ask the rider if they would sit up front.''
LaMarca, the company's main supporter on the dais, said the county has been patient with Uber.
But now a law tailored largely to Uber is on the books, eight months after Uber arrived and asked to be treated differently than traditional cabs. Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties are working on new laws as well.
"If they do the wrong thing and break the law,'' LaMarca said, "we come down on them like a ton of bricks, like we would anyone else. That's it.''
From our media partner Sun Sentinel