County commissioner trying to abolish wait time for limos
By Ted Carter
Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman is having a hard time selling a plan to free limousines and other luxury vehicles for hire from a required one-hour wait to pick up fares at hotels.
Taxi drivers say she might as well paint the limos yellow — the required color for Miami-Dade cabs — if she is going to let them operate the same way as taxis. Limousine companies say the issue comes down to providing choices to the consumer.
Ms. Heyman acknowledges that the move to change the 8-year-old requirement that a limousine cannot be dispatched for at least an hour after it gets a call for service has ignited a lot of emotions. But, she insists, "this won't keep any cabs from spontaneous fares."
It will, however, rid the county of a law created before Miami had many luxury hotels, she said. That's why she wants to limit waiver of the one-hour rule to 20 or so designated upscale hotels.
The rule has had a "chilling effect" on the hospitality industry and only served to frustrate well-heeled visitors who want timely limo and luxury-sedan-for-hire service, Ms. Heyman said. It's also served to expose the county to a class-action lawsuit from the limousine industry, she said.
So far, Ms. Heyman has been unable to gain backing from the county's Taxi Advisory Group. She concedes the going has been tough but insists there's strong support for her proposal.
"Twenty hotels have signed on in support but it's still being shot all to hell," she told a small gathering in early June at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's goals conference.
Taxi Advisory Co-chairman Stephen Nostrand is bothered that her plan designates a handful of hotels to get immediate limo and vehicle-for-hire service while keeping the wait rule in place for all others. "That doesn't make any sense," Mr. Nostrand said.
The Taxi Advisory Group is made up of representatives of taxi and hotel businesses as well as visitor and destination-marketing organizations. It also includes a consumer representative, a representative for the disabled and a member of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's ground transportation committee, the slot Mr. Nostrand fills.
"Our position is that it should not change," said Mr. Nostrand, a real estate professional and treasurer of the Greater Miami Hotel Association.
Co-chairman Diego Feliciano, a taxi-industry representative, said cab drivers fear Ms. Heyman's proposal sets them up to lose the luxury-hotel business they have fought hard to secure and keep. Eliminating the wait rule, he said, "will empower the doormen at the beach hotels to determine who gets the fare.
"And he'll call the one who will pay him the most money," added Mr. Feliciano, who said it's customary for drivers to slip hotel concierges money for helping them secure fares.
"It's cheaper to take a corporate car for a half-hour ride" than to use a taxicab, said Mr. Feliciano, who noted that local cabbies often get fares from Miami Beach hotels to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
"What Sally is doing is very dangerous for us as a tourist destination," he said. "This will put the Dade County cab driver out of business."
That's a claim Scott Tinkler is not buying. Mr. Tinkler, an executive with Aventura Worldwide Transport, which operates a fleet of 90 limos and luxury vehicles for hire, said there is just no "apples-to-apples comparison" between taxicabs and the services his company offers. "We don't feel we're competing with the cab companies," he said.
Ms. Heyman's proposal "is a consumer issue, not a cab issue," Mr. Tinkler said.
"We just don't feel it's fair for a person to be told they can't utilize a service."
Ms. Heyman's decision to limit waiver of the wait rule to high-end hotels, he said, stems from the fact that the bulk of the limo trade's business comes from luxury properties.