Much like in Broward County, ride-sharing service Uber has created a controversial brouhaha over whether it should be allowed to operate in Palm Beach County. Recently, a court was to decide on whether that would remain the case. But county commissioners put a hold on that and on Tuesday decided to try to figure out a compromise with the company, one that would regulate insurance requirements and criminal background checks, among other things.
And, just as it has been in Broward, Palm Beach County has been levying fines on Uber drivers for operating outside of county regulations.
But, just like in Broward, there is a wide rift between Uber and county cab companies that don't like the ride-sharing service muscling in on their fares while playing by a separate set of rules. And then there are the customers, who just want a fast, clean, safe, and convenient ride to work or to the airport, caught in the middle.
"The one thing that's missing from the transportation system in Palm Beach was people not being able to get in touch of a driver," Palm Beach cabdriver Jennifer Condie tells New Times. "So I understand why people are frustrated over Uber not being able to operate here. Uber was smart. They were able to come along and swoop in with technology and solutions. The taxi industry has not gotten into the solution game."
Condie, who runs the Polo Cab Co. of the Palm Beaches, is trying to stay ahead of the curve while combating what she sees as Uber's aggressive corporate manner.
Condie has gotten in on the app game, trying to at least stay in the same ballpark with Uber. She's looking to launch an app for cabdrivers that would at least try to level the playing field.
"I know how frustrated people are with waiting for a cab," she says. "There's been a massive communication breakdown between cab companies and their customers. I want an app that connects all passengers to all drivers within the county."
What Condie envisions is easy access for both passengers and cabbies, much like what Uber offers. Condie says she sees the writing on the wall. And while she disagrees with how Uber does business, she sees that it's not going away.
"If a rider needs a taxi, they should be able to push a button," she says.
But getting the app out there is the hard part. During the County Commission meeting last week, Condie spoke about the app, but no one seemed to listen. "It fell on deaf ears," she laughs. Condie also says the industry would be resistant because dispatch companies don't want to lose their business.
But customers will ultimately decide where things go from here.
"What I like about Uber is that I've been able to get around much more easily without a car, which I had sold," says Palm Beach resident Michael D'Elicio. "Taxis here suck, as does the county transit."
Condie agrees, emphasizing the lack of a more personalized service. "My thinking with an app is, if you're a driver, you're an important resource to the county," she says. "I believe every passenger should have access to every single driver."
Like most passengers, D'Elicio appreciates Uber's quickness, reliability, and -- most important -- access and rates.
"There's a rating system for both passenger and driver," he says. "I rate them; they rate me. And the bottom line is that it's allowed me to have a life while saving for a car."
Asked if cab companies getting an app would sway him, D'Elicio says it's a start. But the prices are also an issue.
"The prices here in Palm Beach County are incredibly high. From West Palm Beach to my crappy suburb is about a $40 trip. With Uber, like $22. West Palm Beach is not worth an $80 round trip."
Condie says Uber is able to keep things cheap because it's operating on a level that may not be sustainable.
"Uber has taken a whole other class of driver and is paying them a dollar a mile," she points out. "What people don't realize is that these cars are taking a beating. Uber has an endless supply of drivers, so when cars start breaking down and drivers have to pay for repairs themselves, Uber will just replace them with another driver."
This all might be true, and Uber has fudged the numbers some when it comes to its claim that its drivers make more than cabbies. But customers, even ones who care about such things, ultimately are looking out for themselves.
"I think Uber engages in bare-knuckles tactics and price surging in more urban areas," D'Elicio says. "So ideologically, I have issues with them. But as an end-user, I can't think of any real issue that would keep me from using Uber."
Condie knows she's got a long way to go to get on the same level as Uber. And she sees her app as a personal grass-roots movement she hopes fellow cabbies will join in on soon. She's asking any driver or company interested to look it up and see it for themselves.