The Florida Legislature's commitment to the free market and open competition turns out to be firm but flexible. After a four-year battle, state lawmakers this week sent to the governor legislation that sets statewide standards for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft. But instead of leveling the playing field, they tilted it toward those trendy new services and against the older business model of traditional taxicabs. If Gov. Rick Scott is truly committed to the free market, fair competition and public safety, he should veto the bill.
The legislation, HB 221, creates a statewide regulatory system for rideshare companies. It came in response to the move by local governments across the state to regulate rideshare on equal terms with taxicab companies. The rideshare industry resisted, claiming rules for background checks on drivers, insurance and vehicle inspections were out of line with the industry's business model. In fact those regulations were no barrier at all, because rideshare companies ignored the rules, continued to operate and then pushed the Legislature to override local government.
The bill, which fielded a single dissenting vote from Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is adequate on insurance, requiring rideshare operators to carry $1 million in coverage. But the background checks on drivers are weaker than what's required of the taxi industry. Given the turnover of drivers for rideshare, this is an invitation for trouble. And unlike taxis, rideshare vehicles don't have to be inspected for safety. The bill also prevents cities and counties from requiring rideshare operators to pay a fee or obtain a license to do business. Floridians must obtain a license to fish, hunt or cut down a tree. Shouldn't the same be required of a driver using the public roads to carry paying passengers to the airport?
The bill promotes the fiction that rideshare operators and drivers are somehow different from taxis. That's legal cover to deregulate the industry within the confines of state law. The industry would self-police complaints, and pay for the very reports to the state attesting to its compliance with state law. Such a deal.
This bill has nothing to do with regulation because the intent was to stoke an industry that's become a shining bauble in urban America. Why get a Ford for a taxi when rideshare might send a Lexus for the same price or less?
Beyond the elitism in this bill, the lack of strong background checks, vehicle inspections and business licenses creates a risk to the riding public. These are for-hire vehicles, and it only makes sense to ensure their tires, brakes and other vital equipment is in safe working order. Why insure passengers on the back end but not ensure these vehicles are fit for the road in the first place?
Let rideshare compete with taxicabs. Uber and Lyft already have forced taxis to raise their standards for customer care. But the playing field must be level. And requiring rideshare operators to be licensed and inspected is hardly onerous or unreasonable, given their line of business and the growth of this new industry.
The near-unanimity of the vote shows the Legislature is focused on solving this issue. But this legislation falls short, and the governor should veto it.