MELBOURNE, Fla. – Citing competition from Uber and up-and-coming ride-sharing services, Melbourne officials may deregulate taxi, shuttle and limousine companies to level the competitive playing field.
Forty-three such companies are licensed to operate in Melbourne, employing 457 permitted drivers and using 131 decal-equipped vehicles, Local 6 News partner Florida Today reported. Per city code, these companies must pay a one-time $50 application, pay $10 decal fees per vehicle, and pay a $15 application fee and $24 background-check fee for each prospective driver.
Plus, each regulated business must carry liability insurance covering at least $300,000 for injury and death claims per accident.
In contrast, no app-based newcomers like Uber, Lyft or Sidecar have gone through the city's application process, City Clerk Cathy Wysor and Police Chief Steve Mimbs — who support taxi deregulation — wrote in a joint memo.
"The city code leaves the impression that we are making the vehicle-for-hire industry in Melbourne safe. In reality, we're simply applying the code and issuing permits and decals to those companies that choose to submit to our regulations," Wysor and Mimbs wrote.
The Melbourne City Council was scheduled to discuss the topic Tuesday — but a power outage scuttled most of the meeting. The discussion will now occur Aug. 11.
Wysor said vehicle-for-hire regulations consume administrative staff time in her department, and enforcing the ordinance is not a police priority.
"Crime in progress, or a taxi company complaining about another taxi company? Crime in progress wins every time," Wysor said.
Melbourne's vehicle-for-hire ordinance does not apply to ride-share vehicles, ambulances, hearses, buses seating more than 20 passengers, hotel shuttles or tour companies.
"An Internet search revealed that for every horror story involving a non-regulated vehicle, there is an equal horror story with a regulated vehicle," Wysor and Mimbs wrote in their memo.
In Florida, Lyft operates in the Orlando metropolitan area and Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa-St. Petersburg, according to the company website. Sidecar offers deliveries and rides in California cities and Washington, D.C., Chicago, Boston, Charlotte and Seattle.
Melbourne, Brevard County and Cape Canaveral regulate vehicles-for-hire, but other Space Coast governments do not.
Melbourne officials requested input in January from vehicle-for-hire businesses. Three responded: Happy Hour Shuttle of Cape Canaveral, Treasure Coast Limousine Service of Sebastian, and Melbourne Airport Express.
Mel Hayes' husband, Ron, owns Happy Hour Shuttle. The company is badged to operate at Port Canaveral and airports in Melbourne, Orlando and Sanford.
"I do not think it is fair to business owners that do what is required to allow independent, unmarked vehicles and inexperienced drivers to operate as a licensed and insured commercial transportation company," Mel Hayes wrote in a February email to City Hall.
"Any one of these vehicles could increase the security risks at any of these locations. Also, because of the standards we operate under, we may be forced to compete with inappropriate pricing," she wrote.