Yesterday, August 18, 2015, the Palm Beach County Commission met to discuss their vehicle for hire ordinance which many have found to be onerous. The ultimate decision will come in September; however, it appears the commission is going to loosen the regulation on vehicle for hire companies as well as for companies like Uber and Lyft. This would make an even playing field for limousines, taxis and ride-sharing tech companies (Uber and Lyft). Representatives, drivers and customers of Uber showed up en masse speaking in support of making the vehicle for hire ordinance less burdensome and many feared the commission would force Uber out of Palm Beach County when their temporary operating agreement expires on September 30, 2015. No customers showed up in support of the taxi and limousine companies.
Although the county commission consistently spoke about the need for public safety, no evidence was shown that Uber or Lyft were any less safe than traditional taxi companies. Even one of the county’s staff admitted that the background checks that Uber does on its drivers is more extensive than the county government does. Uber uses a private firm to do a national background check whereas the county has only been doing government background checks of Florida convictions of potential drivers. The county commission began government fingerprint background checks in February and Uber threatened to leave the county, as they did in Broward County, if their drivers had to undergo the government-run background checks. Although not likely to happen, there was even discussion in scrapping the county’s vehicle for hire ordinance to simply state that such companies will need to follow Florida statute. That discussion quickly was limited to insurance requirements will likely be as per state statute.
Prior to yesterday’s meeting the Libertarian Party of Palm Beach County stated, “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.”
As the day wore on, things got tense up on the county commission dais between the county commissioners. County Mayor Shelley Vana, who received $2,500 from the traditional taxi company industry last month, was visibly shaken and had to take two recesses between 3:30 p.m. and the conclusion of the vehicle for hire discussion at 4:30 p.m. Vana became cynical throughout the discussion once Commissioner Hal Valeche proposed rolling back the ordinance to one that is was more Uber-friendly. Once Valeche started the discussion, it was like a snowball effect as Commissioner Abrams, Commissioner Taylor, and Commissioner Berger all joined in with the same sentiment. Once returning from one 10-minute recess, there was mass confusion between the commissioners, as many thought a motion was still on the table and Vana became belligerent, especially with Commissioner Taylor. Quickly, a second recess was announced, as it appeared Vana was on the verge of a breakdown. Vana is running for Palm Beach County Property Appraiser in 2016. One thing became clear is that not many Uber supporters will be supporting Shelley Vana or Melissa McKinlay on election day in 2016.
Presumably, the county commission will take up the new suggestions of changing the ordinance at its September 1, 2015 meeting. If it does not, it’s last chance to keep Uber and Lyft in Palm Beach County will be at their September 22, 2015 meeting, because Uber’s temporary operating agreement runs out on September 30, 2015. Uber has become wildly popular in Palm Beach County and county commissioners have been bogged down with emails, letters and calls from county residents in support of Uber.