Update: Uber has responded to SEIU's criticisms.
"Insufficient service plagued neighborhoods for decades before Uber," spokesperson Taylor Bennett tells New Times. "Today, trips originating in underserved areas have been growing faster than ever in South Florida, because residents simply didn't have another option before Uber. The fact is, Uber is the most affordable and reliable choice for transportation across all neighborhoods."
As for the claim that Uber doesn't service those with disabilities, Bennett says, "The Uber app is built to expand access to transportation options for all, including persons with disabilities and we are constantly innovating our platform and operations to meet that demand. Uber has been lauded by the blind and visually-impaired community for increasing their freedom and mobility, and the Uber app is fully VoiceOver iOS compatible and uses every feature of the iPhone."
Original post: Broward commissioners are expected to decide if they're going to add ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft to their taxi regulations and laws. For its part, Uber has said it will cooperate with the county, though that may be a dubious promise.
Cabdrivers have already expressed frustration over Uber operating while ignoring the county's regulations, and they are afraid the playing field will be continue to be uneven if Uber and Lyft are allowed to operate with impunity. And now the SEIU Florida Public Services Union is jumping into the debate, announcing that it plans speak on behalf of cabdrivers at a 2 p.m. commission meeting today.
The SEIU Florida Public Services Union, which represents 19,000 public sector workers across the state, says the drivers need a strong voice in the debate.
Uber, which has grown into a nationwide phenomenon and recently secured $1.2 billion in funding, has been a sore spot for local taxi drivers, who say the company plays by its own rules while poaching away customers.
"The commissioner's meeting and wanting to regulate Uber is a step in the right direction," Afifa Khaliq, communications director for SEIU-Florida Public Services Union, tells New Times. "But the problem is there's also a significant public health issue that we see."
Khaliq claims that Uber's cars usually don't travel to inner-city or dangerous neighborhoods.
"That leaves cabdrivers to go into these neighborhoods," she says. "Taxi drivers have gotten held up and put their lives in danger. Uber plays it safe."
Khaliq also says there might be a racism issue when it comes to Uber drivers versus cabdrivers. "A customer sees a white Uber driver pull up in a shiny car and they'll get in, over seeing maybe a Haitian cabdriver pull up."
But Khaliq also says that Tuesday's meeting is being seen as a good thing but that there is more work to do.
"Yes, we want Uber to play by the same rules," she says. "But the taxi laws need to be revisited. We need to have a seat at the table. Taxi drivers have the best experience and knowledge of any other drivers in the county. We feel like the commission needs to sit with the drivers and discuss this more, to modernize the current laws. We're grateful, but more needs to be done."
"For far too long, taxi drivers in Broward County have not had a strong voice to provide input about regulations and policies that affect their livelihoods," says Ramey Marseille, a taxi driver who has organized cabdrivers to form a union.
"We do not want the commission to stop here," Marseille added. "The drivers have the real knowledge of the field, and they deserve to be at the table with the commission to relook at the ordinance."
Independent drivers -- what the SEIU Florida Public Services Union calls "1,000 small businesses" -- are expected to ask commissioners to rectify what they see as a two-tiered system that gives an unfair advantage to Uber and Lyft drivers.
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