'Uber Bill' Debate Cut Short In Senate, To Continue Friday In House

Apr 3, 2014

Jacksonville is the only Florida city where Uber offers its service.
Credit Uber

  On Friday, a controversial measure regulating chauffeured limousines is scheduled to go before its final House committee. The so-called “Uber bill” is aimed at paving the way for a car service app to roll into Florida’s large cities more easily.

More than 10,000 people have signed an online petition titled “Move Florida Forward.” Car service technology company Uber created the lobbying tool to collect support for legislation prohibiting local governments from enacting restrictions it says are keeping its cars out of those areas.

The company runs a smartphone app allowing users to book limos—or black cars as they’re known in the industry—at rates lower than taxi fare in many cases. When Uber enters a market, it partners with existing car services and takes a cut of all fares booked through its app. It’s operating in 85 cities already.

In a video the company posted on YouTube, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick pitches the service like this: “Uber’s mission is to go to every major city in the world and roll out an efficient, convenient, elegant transportation system.”

As of November, Uber has been operating in Jacksonville after successfully lobbying the City Council. That city removed its rule requiring limo services to book rides at least a half-hour in advance—a restriction that got in the way of Uber’s on-demand model. Uber public policy spokesman Justin Kintz says Miami has even more restrictions on black car providers.

“First, it’s a $70 minimum-fare arrangement, so that means even if you’re just going five miles down the road, it’s going to cost you at least $70. Secondly, you have to have a minimum wait time of an hour. So if you’re ready to go, and the car arrives in 5 minutes, you have to sit there and wait 55 more minutes before you’re allowed to step in that car,” Kintz says.

Plus, he says Miami has capped the number of black cars allowed to operate. All of those restrictions would be illegal under bills sponsored by Rep. James Grant (R- Tampa) and Sen. Jeff Brandes (R- St. Petersburg).

“I believe this will allow for dynamic new transportation options to be offered in Florida,” Brandes said Thursday before the Senate Transportation Committee ran out of time to vote on it. He says the vote will happen next week. But a couple of taxi company operators voiced their opposition before the meeting adjourned.

Gulf Coast Transportation President Rob Searcy testified, “This is just a spoiled brat big corporation that does not want to play by the rules that are already there.”

And Roger Chapin with Orlando’s Mears Transportation was also in the room but didn’t get the chance to testify. He says Uber has presented a “false choice” and doesn’t really need state intervention to come to cities like his.

“It could happen without the city of Orlando getting involved,” he says. “They could follow the existing rules. They could come to Orlando and advocate for a change. And instead they got upset that they were not successful in Miami and basically packed up their marbles and came to Tallahassee.”

Chapin says his company would likely want to partner with Uber if the company came to Orlando. But he says his biggest issue with the legislation is taking away local control over an industry that’s been regulated that way for decades. And he says taxi cabs are subject to many more regulations than luxury cars are, so if the bill passes, cabs would be at a further competitive disadvantage.

The Uber debate is scheduled to continue Friday morning in the House Economic Affairs Committee.