While Uber has suspended operations in Broward County, the ride-sharing company will continue to operate in Palm Beach County after a new temporary proposal that says Uber and Lyft will be able to conduct their own background checks. Background checks — and who exactly conducts them — has been a sticking point in Broward, whose commissioners say should be the county. But Palm Beach officials say that Uber is too popular with the locals to let it come to an end as it has in Broward.
Still, local cab companies in Palm Beach are unhappy with the new proposal, which has been added to an already Temporary Operating Agreement from March. Cab drivers say Uber and other ride-sharing companies are receiving preferential treatment from the county.
In the end, it's coming down to whether passengers are aware of the company's self-policing of safety regulations.
"Some people view Uber as a cool transportation option, but that doesn't negate the fact that they are largely operating without regulations designed to keep consumers safe," Walter Dartland, executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, said to New Times. "Such regulations as background checks, insurance coverage, and vehicle maintenance requirements aren't unnecessary red tape — they are practical policies designed first and foremost to keep the public safe."
Dartland, a longtime consumer advocate who runs the website UberNightmare, added that safety and fair competition between Uber and traditional cab companies should be something people are concerned with.
But Palm Beach County Administrator Bob Weisman says the new proposal is good for both Uber and local cab companies, according to WPTV. Weisman does admit that consumers are taking a risk when riding Uber, saying that passengers are putting themselves in a situation "where they may or may not be as safe because we are not running the most advanced background checks or detailed inspections."
But, Weisman and the Palm Beach commissioners say, the public has shown that it wants to use Uber.
In March, Dennis Grady, CEO of the Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce, sent Commissioner Steve Abrams a letter asking commissioners to find a temporary solution and negotiate with Uber.
In his letter, Grady cited the financial gain that the county has seen over Uber operating there, as well as the ride-sharing service's popularity with residents.
"[Uber] has connected hundreds of thousands of local people residing in and visiting our community with safe and reliable rides," part of the letter reads.
Essentially, Palm Beach's proposal is to give consumers what they want, while warning them with a "buyer beware."
Cab companies, meanwhile, have complained that the county has failed to level the playing field. Some of the companies, including TS Transportation, North County Transportation, A1A Airport, Prestige Limousines, and All Transit Solution have already sued the county over its giving Uber leeway with their Temporary Operating Agreement.
“Uber is a large vehicle for hire company that has a history of coming into a particular city or county and attempting to obtain special treatment so that it need not comply with local and/or state regulations with which its competitors must comply,” reads part of the 53-page suit.
The lawsuit is expected to be heard in court sometime in September, the same month the Temporary Operating Agreement expires.
For now, the county says that the temporary proposal will be discussed at a meeting on Friday, but county leaders are hoping to move forward with nailing down an official proposal to keep Uber drivers from operating throughout town illegally — and to get ahead of the lawsuit trial.