Last week, Broward County’s commissioners put the interests of the people they serve, the public, ahead of the economic interests of Uber, Lyft and similar transportation providers known as “transportation network companies,” or TNCs.
Requirements like registration and licensing of drivers, improved county-- monitored driver background checks and vehicle inspections, and insurance that complies with state laws are not burdensome government regulation. They are protections that the public should want and deserves. Broward County has provided operating rules for Uber and other TNCs, similar to those imposed on taxis and limousines which provide the same core service. In fact the regulations, in terms of fares and number of operating vehicles, are more favorable for TNCs.
Requiring Uber drivers to carry 24--hour commercial auto liability insurance does not go “too far.” Personal auto policies exclude coverage for the transportation of passengers for money. TNC vehicles are “for--hire” vehicles as defined by Florida law, and the commission correctly observed that Florida’s insurance statutes require for--hire vehicles to maintain commercial insurance 24--hours a day. The county’s action last week simply requires TNC companies and their drivers to follow the law passed in Tallahassee.
Uber claims higher levels of coverage should only be required when drivers are providing services while using Uber’s application. Uber’s insurance provides coverage when the driver accepts a request for service from the app, through the time the last passenger leaves the vehicle. When the Uber driver
provides transportation for money while not using the app there would be no insurance coverage, not only for the driver’s passenger, but for anybody the driver injures who is on the road. Further, when an accident occurs, Uber’s insurance relies on Uber and its driver to determine whether Uber’s app was being used and if so, if Uber’s insurance coverage applies. In the end not just the TNC driver and passengers are at risk for inadequate insurance; every motorist and bystander sharing the road with the TNC vehicle bear the risk of inadequate protection.
Furthermore, Florida law requires that every insurance carrier providing for-- hire transportation coverage be a member of the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association. FIGA protects policyholders and the public in the event an insurance company goes bankrupt and cannot pay claims. Bankrupt insurance companies including Reliance, Ullico and First Commercial wrote for--hire auto insurance policies in South Florida. These carriers were members of FIGA and Broward’s residents and visitors were protected. Insurers that are not members of FIGA such as Uber’s Bermuda based James Riverprovide no protection to their policyholders, the TNC driver or Florida’s consumers in the event of a bankruptcy.
Level II background checks require fingerprinting of drivers, which provides verification of the applicant’s Florida criminal history, determination of aliases, a national FBI criminal history search, and continued updates of charges which may occur in Florida. The ability to perform Level II backgrounds on for--hire drivers was authorized by Florida’s Legislature in 2013 and since then other communities have enacted laws requiring them.
Commissioner Barbara Sharief noted that Uber drivers represented they were transporting school--age children. Mayor Tim Ryan noted that South Florida is the identity theft capital of United States. The commission in its collective wisdom determined that it was in the best interest of Broward’s residents and visitors that Level II background checks would be required of all for--hire drivers, including those operating taxicabs, luxury sedans, vans and TNC vehicles.
Broward County has not forced Uber out. It came up with fair rules to allow it to operate. Uber, a $40 billion company that sends 20 percent of every dollar charged in this county to Wall Street, may choose not to operate here because these minimal regulations do not fit its business model. Yet, these are the same, or in significant ways, less--restrictive regulations faced by all others working in the for--hire transportation industry.
Uber may decide that its economic interest is served by pulling out
of Broward County rather than abide by the same rules as everyone else. If it does, that’s its business. It’s Broward County’s business to put the public’s interest and safety first.