Uber, the app that connects people with cab and limo drivers at the tap of a button, has seen its fight to extend its business in Florida seriously watered down in the past week.
The company, which at the moment operates only in Jacksonville, is upping its efforts to get the bill pushed by launching a website and getting a much-loved Miami Heat player involved.
Still, as we reported last week, cabdrivers in South Florida are concerned that Uber could seriously hurt the industry without proper regulations. That, in part, is why the bills got watered down in the first place.
Last week, Sen. Jeff Brandes, who sponsored SB 1618, amended his bill, which originally would keep local governments from regulating chauffeured limousine services and its drivers.
The new version of bill was amended so that the nonregulatory nature of the law would apply only to Hillsborough County. That county's Public Transportation Commission, which regulates taxis, limos, and other transportation businesses, is appointed by local government officials.
But Uber is determined to get the bill passed, even if it means a watered-down version. The company believes this to a first step in expanding beyond Jacksonville into the larger markets of Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Orlando.
The company launched FloridaNeedsUber.com, where it is collecting signatures, much as it did with its Let the Sun Shine On Innovation petition on its official website weeks ago. That petition garnered more than 9,000 in just 24 hours alone.
The new petition has 11,107 signatures and climbing.
Uber has also hired the Miami Heat's Udonis Haslem as a radio pitchman to get South Floridians onboard with the app.
The stakes are high, because the legislative session ends in three weeks, and the House version of the bill has passed a couple of committees and is going to be heard on the floor, while the Senate version has passed only one committee so far.
Meanwhile, the cab industry is in on the fight too, demanding that Uber play by the same rules as everyone else, particularly when it comes to regulations.
Local drivers are especially concerned about the company's UberX option, which is basically a lower-priced version of the original Uber app that uses midrange cars for ridesharing. Ridesharing services, for the most part, have gone largely unregulated throughout the U.S.
UberX, taxi drivers say, is a threat to public safety as well as to the industry because of the very legit concern that personal auto insurance doesn't cover commercial drivers.
As New Times reported last week, according to one driver we spoke to who chose to remain anonymous, Uber has specifically told its drivers not to get insurance.
Another concerned driver, Jennifer Condie, who operates out of Palm Beach, expressed similar concerns. "UberX has regular passenger insurance, taking 20 percent from the driver," Condie told New Times. "But they basically tell drivers not to get insurance, to put it on your personal insurance. But you can't put others on your insurance."
Meanwhile, places like Fort Lauderdale and Miami have their own regulatory practices in place and will likely fight the bill as well to maintain consistency and make sure that all car services are regulated the same way.
Uber does have the power of the people behind it. We'll know in three weeks how it all pans out.
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