Uber, Lyft drivers not obtaining Orlando permits

Police issue few citations to violators

ORLANDO, Fla. – In the six months since an Orlando city ordinance went into effect requiring drivers with ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to obtain permits, not one ride-hailing driver has complied with the law, records show.

[WEB EXTRA: Information on Orlando's vehicle for Hire]

During that same period, police have written less than 15 citations to ride-hailing drivers for failing to obtain the required permits, according to records obtained by Local 6 News.

Between February and mid-July, 31 individuals obtained Orlando's newly created livery vehicle permits, which are now required for most chauffeur-driven vehicles other than traditional taxicabs, limousines and shuttle services. Those permits, which cost $250, have been granted to independent cab drivers and some traditional transportation businesses, including Mears. But none of the permits were obtained by drivers for Transportation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft, city records indicate.

Each livery driver is also required to obtain a separate $25 driver's permit from the Orlando Police Department.

"It's not been happening. They've not been coming in," said OPD Deputy Chief Eric Smith, who oversees the department's Vehicle for Hire Enforcement Unit. "The drivers are responsible for getting the permits themselves."

Many ride-hailing drivers questioned by Local 6 claim they were unaware they needed a permit to pick up passengers within Orlando city limits.

"I haven't heard anything," said Keoki, a driver for Lyft who did not provide his last name.

Another Lyft driver, Frank Zambrana, said he was led to believe the permits were optional.

"(Lyft) is not telling you, 'Don't get it,'" said Zambrana. "If you want to get it, it's at your discretion."

Zambrana also mistakenly thought the permits cost thousands of dollars. But he thinks even $250 for the vehicle permit and $25 for the driver's permit is too expensive, especially for part-time drivers who are behind the wheel only a few hours each week.

"Getting a permit to scratch up and make ‘beer money,' as we call it, I don't think it's going to happen," said Zambrana.

When Orlando city commissioners revised the city's vehicle for hire ordinance into allow Transportation Network Companies to operate legally, city leaders indicated rules were necessary to protect passengers.

"We want to allow and have Uber and Lyft and other companies of their type here in Orlando," said Mayor Buddy Dyer during the Dec. 15 city commission meeting, where the revisions were passed. "We're not compromising in the area of safety measures that will protect our traveling public."

To obtain permits, drivers must pass a nationwide criminal background check approved by the city. Uber and Lyft conduct background check on their own drivers, according to the companies' websites, but city officials require an independent screening.

"That driver has not gone through any background checks by our standards," Smith said. "You just don't know who you're riding with."

Under the Orlando ordinance, livery drivers are required to carry liability insurance in the amounts set by Florida law. Although Uber and Lyft representatives believe their drivers are properly insured, some opponents believe the ride-hailing drivers have inadequate coverage. State lawmakers failed to pass bills this year that would have specifically addressed insurance requirements for Transportation Network Companies.

In order to qualify for the Orlando permits, drivers must verify their vehicles have been inspected by a certified mechanic. Uber requires drivers to get their vehicles inspected by mechanics, according to drivers. In lieu of a professional inspection, Lyft's website indicates fellow drivers, known as "mentors," can submit a checklist verifying the brakes, lights, speedometer and tires appear to be in working order.

Among the most controversial aspects of Orlando's revised vehicle-for-hire ordinance is the requirement that ride-hailing companies charge the same $2.40 per mile minimum fare are traditional cabs.

Uber and Lyft use different pricing structures than traditional cab companies. Although there are situations when Uber and Lyft passengers may pay an equal or higher rate than taxis, a review of individual trip receipts by Local 6 confirms those ride-hailing companies do not always comply with the city's minimum fare requirement.

For example, after a 4.4 mile trip that took 11 1/2 minutes, Uber charged a Local 6 reporter $6.77, which included a $1 base fare and $1 administrative fee. Under the city's minimum fare requirement, the same trip would cost at least $10.56.

"We have been having regular meetings with the transportation network companies," Smith said. "We listen to what their needs are."

Among those needs, according to Smith, is an easier way for drivers to obtain permits electronically. The city is currently developing a new Web page that would enable drivers to register and pay fees online, as well as allow certain ride-hailing companies upload lists of drivers in bulk.

"We are in constant communications with drivers and, once the electronic process is completed, we will direct our drivers to sign up through the online application," said Lyft representative Mary Caroline Pruitt. "While there are still elements of the ordinance that are not ideal for our peer-to-peer model, we will continue to support our drivers and collaborate with city officials to find a way forward for Lyft's safe, affordable rides in Orlando."

Representatives from Uber did not respond to multiple requests from Local 6 seeking comment.

Until the city's website is operational sometime around the end of the year, drivers are still required to obtain a permit by visiting Orlando Police Department headquarters, Smith said.

Since Orlando's revised ordinance took effect on Feb. 1, Orlando police have issued less than 15 citations to ride-hailing drivers for failing to have the proper permits, according to records. About 25 traditional cab drivers received similar tickets, records show.

"(The police officer) told me, ‘You're in violation of the city's ride-for-hire policies,'" said Lyft driver Demetrius Leitzsey, who received a citation after responding to a request for a pick-up at a long-term parking lot near Orlando International Airport.

Leitzsey said he believes the officer posed as a Lyft customer to request the ride.

Besides being fined $420 for failing to have the two permits, Leitzsey said police had his car towed, which cost him more than $200 to retrieve. Lyft reimbursed him for that expense, he said.

"(Lyft) sent me a sorry card, a handwritten card, apologizing," said Leitzsey. "And they sent me $50 for my troubles."

Leitzsey had not yet submitted his citations to Lyft, but several other Lyft drivers who received tickets told Local 6 the company reimbursed those costs as well.

Although police have written relatively few citations since the ordinance took effect, officers have issued many warnings, Smith said.

"A lot of it is education," said Smith. "Just like any new laws that come on the books, you try to educate the public."

Many drivers still question the need for city oversight, especially knowing permits are not required to pick up passengers in unincorporated Orange County or most other places outside city limits.

"I think it's an outdated system that dates back 70-100 years, when the first taxis were coming out and people were trying to figure out how to regulate them," said Lyft driver Zambrana. "It's a new age."