Insurance issues between regulated taxicab companies and independent Uber drivers took center stage in front of a sparse, but critical crowd at a Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations town meeting on Mar. 10.
Diego Feliciano, president of South Florida Taxicab Association Inc., and Rachel Johnson, marketing manager for the South Florida’s Uber service, fielded extensive questioning about insurance coverage that Miami-Dade Commissioners will tackle during a hearing on May 3.
Commissioners will consider potential changes to the existing taxi code that would require regulations for Uber drivers.
The Florida House and Senate closed the spring legislative session, failing to agree on state legislation to address how local governments should revise existing codes to regulate the ride-sharing, cost-cutting companies.
The core of the dispute: lack of insurance coverage protecting passengers under the driver’s private coverage when driving for business, rather than for personal purposes, in case of accidents, as well as other legal issues that might occur during service.
While coverage may insure the driver of a vehicle car when used for personal driving, it does not apply to cover a paying passenger, Feliciano charged. Taxi Association drivers may cough up between $5,000-7,000 yearly for coverage to operate commercial service for passengers, he added.
When a driver turns on a smartphone used to communicate with riders, some level of insurance may kick in but the coverage depends on how drivers may offer rides to customers, he stated.
Johnson defended Uber in South Florida as hiring and screening “careful and conscientious” drivers, noting that the low cost for shared ridership is due, in part, to avoiding extensive regulatory requirements.
“We carefully choose all of our drivers and provide basic coverage through the company,” she said.
A South Carolina nurse and physician husband are currently suing Uber for extensive injuries incurred in December when their driver crashed into another car leaving the Eden Roc Hotel on Miami Beach and was later cited for failing to yield to oncoming traffic. It was the third such case in the last six months in South Florida.
“To drive with Uber in New York City, you need a TLC (Taxi and Limousine Commission), the kind of regulation needed here,” Feliciano charged.
KFHA president Michael Rosenberg who sharply questioned both officials on requirements for becoming an independent driver later sent emails to Commissioners Xavier Suarez and Daniela Levine-Cava describing how several prominent insurance companies told him they would cancel his coverage if he began operating his vehicle as an Uber driver.
Rosenberg said he failed to get a response from Johnson when asking her directly if the company told its drivers they were operating illegally, concluding he might open his own ride sharing service named “RAYOR” or “Ride At Your Own Risk.”
In an email to Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Rosenberg said a county official alleged that “Uber is operating in direct violation” of the current county code requiring a valid for-hire license, noting 3,900 citations had been issued by the county for operating without a valid license.
“I love Uber, but believe they should operate as everyone else does,” Rosenberg said. “Shamefully, they have gotten away with writing their own rules in our community for two years. You should have not let that happen.”