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Palm Beach Letting Uber Police Itself; Cabbies Angry

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Cab drivers and limo companies are expressing serious concern over Palm Beach County easing off on certain restrictions and allowing Uber and other ride-sharing companies to conduct their own background checks. Earlier this week, the county commission laid out a new proposal that will allow Uber to continue to conduct business. As in Broward County, background checks have been an issue. But where Broward commissioners are unwilling to budge on how background checks are handled, Palm Beach has said they’ll allow Uber to police itself, even while admitting it’s a bit of a gamble for passengers.

Local cab drivers and limo companies up in arms.

“Uber continues to behave like an undisciplined five-year old throwing temper tantrums and threatening to take their toys and go home,” Polo Cab driver Jennifer Condie tells New Times. “If the vehicles-for-hire industry disappeared today, the county would still hold us drivers accountable with a background check, and we are fine with that.”

Since Uber arrived in Palm Beach, it’s basically been operating illegally, operating without conforming to rules that taxi companies have for decades been required to follow. County officials have gotten into a Temporary Operating Agreement with the company, while cabs and limo companies have not been afforded the same luxury.

Cab drivers and other passenger services must pass inspections twice a year as well as undergo background checks and have additional insurance, according to county laws.

Ride sharing services like Uber have been widely unregulated throughout the years, and personal auto insurance doesn’t cover commercial drivers.

“Uber is playing cat-and-mouse with local regulators in an effort to delay operating costs so they can attempt to cash out with an IPO before their unsustainable business model sinks,” Condie says. “Uber’s eggs right now are all in the Federal Trade Commission's basket.”

The new temporary proposal breaks the industry down into two groups: cabs and non-cabs. The non-cabs industry will have certain restrictions and standards but, for the most part, are able to police themselves when it comes to background checks. Limo companies fall under the non-cabs categories, but even they are concerned.

"I was stunned. I couldn't believe the county would roll back requirements we have been doing for years," Rick Versace of the Florida Limousine Association told WPTV.

Back in May, some of the cab and even limo companies in the county, including TS Transportation, North County Transportation, A1A Airport, Prestige Limousines, and All Transit Solution filed a lawsuit against the county over its giving Uber leeway with their Temporary Operating Agreement. 

This recent temporary proposal seems to be an answer to that lawsuit, since the county is now allowing limo companies to conduct their own background checks like Uber. But Versace isn’t convinced it’s the best idea.

"I don't think it makes any sense. It looks like they are bending over backwards to make an accommodation to a $50 billion company, but if I asked them to make a change to one thing they wouldn't even look at me. It doesn't make any sense," he said.

Condie sees a bigger conspiracy at play.

“The scary part is, Uber has the kind of bank account and political sway to make the Florida Trade Commission rule on their behalf,” she says. “Big tech business is on Ubers side because they don't want to be regulated either.”

Palm Beach Commissioners plan to meet on Friday to further discuss the proposal.

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