Legislation must be modernized for ride-sharing services

If you’re a student at University of Miami, it’s almost impossible to go through your four years here without using a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft. They’re convenient and much more reliable than Miami’s notorious taxis.

Odds are, however, many students use the service without thinking about the legislative headaches caused by these so-called “on-demand” business models. Both regulation and complete bans seem to threaten our beloved rides, and the government needs to start thinking creatively about policies fit for the rapidly developing innovations of the 21st century.

These ride-sharing services are essential tools that I, and many other students, use to get around. Miami especially needs to recognize their vitality and legitimize ride sharing. In Miami-Dade County, Uber and Lyft are not technically legal. They are allowed to exist simply because the city doesn’t really know how to proceed with legislation, according to a Miami Herald article published in April. Drivers still operate under the threat of having their vehicles impounded or facing citations and fines. The services were even embroiled in a lawsuit with taxi companies in Miami federal court, posing further problems to ride sharing in our city.

According to an Aug. 23 article published in the Herald, county officials hope to unveil some kinds of framework for the companies around November, but gave little details on what that might look like.

Laws were passed in Broward County in April to legalize the services, but with tough regulations that forced every driver to register with the county. Uber claimed they couldn’t operate under these restrictions due to the fluidity of its workforce.

Both regulation and prohibition of these services are failing, and counties seem to be out of options. 

Consider the massive protests that happened this summer over New York’s limit of the number of Uber vehicles allowed on the streets. High-profile celebrities like Kate Upton, Ashton Kutcher and Neil Patrick Harris even supported the protests.

Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to reverse that rule and engage in a four-month-long study of ride-sharing services to determine how to proceed. America’s largest city is basically buying time to figure out what to do with the services that threaten its traditional taxi infrastructure and regulation.

The federal government has been a little smarter about regulating this sector. The National Labor Relations Board just passed a landmark case on Aug. 27 that changed the definition of a “joint employer,” according to the Washington Post.

Basically, corporations like Uber that use staffing agencies to hire their employees will now be held much more accountable for their employees. This ruling makes it easier for these employees to unionize.

Allowing the companies to function legally gives employees the protections they don’t have when they are not legalized, which makes everyone, both passengers and drivers, a little safer. This action represents the kind of policies local governments should be enacting – ordinances that not only keep the business model operational, but also protect the citizens who interact with the corporation.

The on-demand business sector is only going to keep expanding. It is not just Uber and Lyft that cause problems for regulators; Airbnb, on-demand cleaning services, outsourced food delivery and other businesses exist outside the confines of traditional regulation and business models.

These services are just too popular and convenient as an interface that our generation will not be willing to give them up just because they are not legalized. As Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez stated in the recent Herald article, “I’ve got to bring the taxi drivers into the 21st century. I’m not going to bring Uber back to the 20th century.”

This is exactly what cities should be doing.

There are ways for governments to regulate on-demand businesses without driving the services extinct. Cities will have to ditch their ideas about how taxi systems should be and deal with how they are. Not only is figuring out better regulations necessary to legalize the services, but it is also necessary to ensure the safety of employees, consumers and the cities’ incomes as well.

Annie Cappetta is a sophomore majoring in political science.

Featured image courtesy Uber