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Thursday, July 16, 2015

UBER to leave Broward County, Florida July 31st 2015, Tonight I Tried The Service For The First Time...

I've used yellow taxi's for many years, from Boston, to New York, to Florida. And I must say, with no alternative service, my experiences were typically extremely lack luster for the last few years, especially here in South Florida. Waiting in excess of an hour to 2 hours for a ride, to then be taken on extra long scenic routes to my destinations for a few extra toll dollars, I was more not pleased than pleased with most of my yellow cab experiences. I've actually missed flights waiting for yellow cab drivers who reported to dispatchers they were "around the corner", but were actually with other customers on the other side of town, I stopped using yellow cab many months ago. But, when it's the only option, you learn to work with it.

Today for the first time I experienced "Uber", and I must say, it was quite the experience, and far
more superior than the age old yellow cab service. Let me tell you about it.

I decided to take an evening stroll to the market to get a few items to cook. Like most woman, I ended up with many more bags than expected, so I opted to call a cab, a yellow cab. I was told by dispatch, the only cab available was an hour away. Then I remembered a friend sent me a promotional UBER text, for a free ride for using the service for the first time. So I decided to give it a shot.

I downloaded the Uber app, and set up an account and applied my promotional code. In the click of a button, I had a map view of all the available drivers in the area. There was approximately 4. I clicked a button, and immediately, I was shown my drivers profile, face, vehicle type and license plate number, and estimated arrival time which was 3 minutes. WOW. I took note of the time and the driver actually arrived in 2 minutes in a Honda CRV. I approached the personally owned, contracted vehicle of a driver named Rodrigo. As I entered the vehicle he immediately asked if I needed assistance with my bags, which I didn't, so we began our ride. He asked how my day was, and we began to chat.

I asked him about the recent changes in Uber and how he felt about the service ending in Broward county in a few days. He stated his disappointment, but was hopeful it wouldn't be for too long. He then told me about the tiers of vehicles and class of vehicles of the different Ubers, Uber X, and Uber XL. He explained the UberXL's were more luxury vehicles like Escalades, Navigators, even BMW and Benzs'. These XL vehicles were typically used for groups maybe going out for a night on the town, or special events. Impressive to say the least.

He then asked me what I did for a living, and if I'd used the service before, and I explained what I typed in the first paragraph. And we engaged in great conversation, for the duration of my ride.

When we got to my destination, I asked, "ok so how does this work now", he said no money was needed, my account (which is linked to my debit card would be charged for whatever was owed and I would get an email receipt. It came through almost instantaneously as he pressed a button on his smartphone to end the trip. Of course this ride was free, so my receipt was ZIP, ZILTCH, ZERO.

The email allowed for me to give the driver a rating from 1-5 stars, and leave a comment. I gave him 5 stars for his stellar service, great conversation, as well as the clean, manicured appearance and smell of the vehicle.

I was then sent a promotional code to share with my friends for a free ride, the same way my friend had received one and sent to me. There is also great incentive for every free ride my friends used, I would get another one too for up to $20.

https://get.uber.com/invite/angelw288ue Feel free to use my promo code for a free ride up to $20 as well :)

The trip was significantly cheaper (the receipt shows what the charges would have been had I not used that promo code.

All in all, the service was so superior, I began to think, how dare Broward County end such a great service! My next step is finding every petition possible to sign to keep Uber here, because I'm in love with the service I received tonight.

According to Sun Sentinel newspaper, Boward County commissioners on Tuesday passed a sweeping new law regulating app-based ride services such as Uber, despite the company's threat to leave town if they did.

The new regulations legalize services including Uber and Lyft, whose drivers use their personal vehicles. But the law left intact tough provisions that Uber said would make it impossible to operate in Broward.

Each driver will be required to register with the county, submit to a county-run fingerprint-based background check, and carry the heightened insurance state law requires for commercial vehicles for hire.

"We are disappointed at some of the decisions that were made today,'' Kasra Moshkani, Uber's South Florida general manager, said after the vote.

Later that night, company spokesman Bill Gibbons issued s statement that Uber can't follow the new law.

"We cannot operate in Broward County if such onerous regulations are enforced, and stand ready to reengage with the commission to bring more choice and opportunity back to Broward County.''

Commissioner Stacy Ritter said she disliked Uber's public relations campaign, which included emailing and mailing fliers to residents telling them the county was forcing Uber out with its regulations.

"If Uber leaves this county,'' she said after the vote, "It's Uber's decision to do so voluntarily. There's nothing in this ordinance that is onerous. Uber can comply with this ordinance without any problem. This is a company worth $40 billion, with a 'B.' If they can't pony up a few dollars for insurance, background checks and permits, then shame on them.''

Uber had hoped state legislators would have passed a law preventing local governments from regulating it, as well as setting insurance and background check requirements for drivers. But the House adjourned its session Tuesday without passing an Uber bill.

With the new laws, the county:

•Enhanced background check standards to "Level II,'' requiring fingerprinting. Uber representatives had said a "significant'' number of Uber drivers wouldn't submit fingerprints when Columbus, Ohio, implemented the rule. Any driver who applies for a license will be allowed to carry passengers under a temporary two-week license until the background check is complete.

•Scrapped a requirement for liability insurance for drivers, but required drivers to follow state law, which county officials said requires 24-hour commercial insurance. Uber currently has different insurance coverage that the county says leaves gaps.

•Upgraded vehicle inspection standards for all cars for hire, including Uber and cabs. Third-party licensed mechanics will give 19-point inspections.

•Raised the standards for drivers, excluding those with serious criminal backgrounds or poor driver histories. The law removed some of the subjectivity in granting the chauffeur registrations drivers must obtain.

•Stripped the county's Consumer Protection Board of some of its authority to grant chauffeur registrations to drivers who were rejected by county staff. The change was proposed by Commissioner Mark Bogen after the Sun Sentinel reported earlier this month that the Consumer Protection Board overruled staff in 62 percent of appeals, putting drivers with lengthy rap sheets, including violent crimes and DUIs, behind the wheel.

•Allowed Uber to field unlimited vehicles, with no restrictions on fares. Uber can charge less than the county-mandated cab fare, and can continue its "surge pricing,'' which is exponentially higher.

An overflow crowd filled the meeting Tuesday, split between Uber and taxi drivers.

Robert Bonner, the owner of Intercity Taxi, said he supported the additional regulation.

"If there's been one recurring theme, it's been safety. When people get into a vehicle for hire, they want to know someone has checked out the driver, someone has checked out the vehicle and that it has insurance. This is added expense, more red tape, more work involved. It's worth it.''

The debate over the past eight months was tinged with criticism of the traditional cab system in Broward, with riders complaining about dirty cars, rude, unreliable drivers who don't speak English well, broken air conditioning, inoperable credit card machines and late arrivals.

"It's the taxi industry that needs a kick in the butt, not Uber,'' Hollywood resident Doug Eney wrote to elected officials. "Services like Uber and Lyft are the only way the taxi industry in Broward will invest to really clean up its act.''

Dan Lindblade, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, said in a letter to Commissioner Chip LaMarca on Tuesday that he'd spoken with many hoteliers and restaurateurs who support Uber. He urged the county to find "common ground.''

"Our guests expect this type of solution to an otherwise mediocre traditional cab system,'' he wrote.

ber's aggressive tactics turned off commissioners from the beginning. As it has done throughout the world, Uber refused to follow county taxi laws, simply paying fines when drivers were cited.

The company was not subtle.

Miami-Dade activist Darrin McGillis sent law enforcement officials this month an email from Uber Miami, advising drivers how to avoid detection at South Florida airports, where Uber drivers have been cited and fined.

The email said that "while we continue discussions'' with local officials, there are a few ways to make the airport trips "more enjoyable.''

"Keep your Uber phone off your windshield — put it down in your cupholder,'' the email said. "Ask the rider if they would sit up front.''

LaMarca, the company's main supporter on the dais, said the county has been patient with Uber.

But now a law tailored largely to Uber is on the books, eight months after Uber arrived and asked to be treated differently than traditional cabs. Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties are working on new laws as well.

"If they do the wrong thing and break the law,'' LaMarca said, "we come down on them like a ton of bricks, like we would anyone else. That's it.''

bwallman@tribune.com or 954-356-4541