In what is expected to be quite the show for spectators and stakeholders, the Palm Beach County Commission will meet tomorrow, August 18, 2015, to discuss the future of Uber and the future of other similar tech companies serving Palm Beach County. County commissioners have been in bed with the traditional taxi and limousine business industry for years and Uber has presented a credible threat to their old, obsolete business model. Rather than embrace the change, in February county commissioners introduced an ordinance to force livery drivers to pass an invasive background check even though the prior system was proven to be reliable. The effect of this and other aspects of the new regulation would be less Uber and Lyft drivers on the road, diminishing service to county residents. Many drivers and potential drivers do not want to be fingerprinted for privacy reasons and the extra cost involved, not because they have anything to hide, as what was suggested by one commissioner.
Uber has not backed down to the commissioner’s new and arduous regulation, promising to stop doing business in the county at the end of their temporary operating agreement which expires at the end of September. Uber called Broward County commissioner’s bluff last month, leaving the county, only for those county commissioners to deal with the wrath of very unhappy residents. Broward County is now reconsidering their heavy regulation in favor of a more free market solution.
Specifically, this past February, Palm Beach County Commissioners passed an ordinance that livery drivers must pass a “level 2” background check which would need to go through the government, even though “level 1” background checks (done through private companies) have proven effective for decades. County commissioners have offered no proof of the necessity for the extra background checks which cost drivers more money and are more intrusive resulting in less Uber and Lyft drivers available to service residents. County commissioners have consistently and often spoken about the need to protect the safety of the public, yet there has been no evidence shown the public is at risk or that the public would be better protected with the additional government regulation. Uber has stated it will not comply with the heavy regulation the county is demanding. The county commission, contrary to their public comments, has proven that it is more interested in protecting and serving the livery industry in Palm Beach County, instead of its constituents.
The Libertarian Party of Palm Beach County stated this morning, “While the Palm Beach County Commission suggests the proposed amendments provides flexibility and public safety, the Libertarian Party of Palm Beach County opposes the changes because it limits small companies from entering the vehicles for hire local market. The numerous regulatory requirements, including new FBI background checks, increased insurance requirements and a one-time $10,000 application fee, limits competition resulting in poorer service to our community. The party argues that free markets are a more efficient regulator than bureaucratic red tape.”
The traditional taxi and limousine industry in Palm Beach County has had a more than cozy relationship with the county commission. The group even had proposed forcing uniforms for drivers to raise the standard of service in Palm Beach County. County commissioners had even stopped issuing business licenses for new livery services in Palm Beach County for a period of time as a way to decrease the number of companies operating in the county. And with the new ordinance, a business license now costs $10,000 and a new business must have a minimum number of cars in their operation to be given permission to do commerce in the county. Traditional taxi and limousine companies have also publicly stated they would like to see a minimum charge on customers. All of this is designed to keep the older, less efficient livery services in business while excluding new entrants to the industry.
Other municipalities and counties are considering doing the same and de-regulating their vehicle for hire ordinances. Last week, the City of Melbourne met and some felt the city and Brevard county should eliminate their vehicle for hire ordinance and simply have livery companies and drivers comply with State of Florida law. Libertarian, Democrat and Republican residents would like to see Uber and Lyft expand and utilize their free market, voluntary way of doing business, rather than have the heavy hand of government stifle their innovation. This has been proven by the sheer number of email, letters and telephone calls from county constituents to county commissioners these past few months.
The new Palm Beach County Transportation Committee (PBCTC) “opposes a ban of Uber, Lyft, and other telephone/computer application based transportation and ride sharing services.” The PBCTC is working with other organizations that feel voluntary exchange between Palm Beach County residents should not be interfered with by heavy and unnecessary regulation by local governments. The PBCTC passed a resolution it is circulating in Palm Beach County which reads:
“Whereas ride-share service drivers go through a background check,
Whereas ride-share they pay for themselves and have commercial liability and are provided commercial liability insurance by the ride-share service,
Whereas restricting competition (government barriers to entry) in transportation amounts to protectionism for the existing big players in the industry,
Whereas competition always yields lower prices and an overall better experience for the consumer,
Whereas phone-based applications make becoming a driver much easier and helps tare down the current protectionism in the transportation industry,
Whereas ride sharing programs provide a low cost option for businesses to get their employees to work, including getting students to work after school for a couple of hours.
Whereas one basic principle of a free society is a right to voluntarily contract without prior interference from the government,
Whereas cities across the county have restrictive laws limiting the number of taxi-cabs, including the Town of Palm Beach, for example, which has a lottery system into which a driver must buy for a chance to win a permit, and ride-sharing services help consumers overcome the problems caused by restrictions to entry in to the sector,
Whereas the only two reasons a County Commissioner would vote for a ban on ride-sharing services is if either he or she is not aware of the above facts or if he or she is trying to protect the more established part of the transportation sector over low cost competitors,
Be it resolved, then, that the Palm Beach County Transportation Committee opposes a ban of Uber, Lyft, and other telephone/computer application based transportation and ride sharing services.”