Walkable West Palm Beach


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Support ridehailing services like Uber and Lyft: Email the County Commissioners

Readers,

Walkable West Palm Beach is an outspoken supporter for ridehailing services. (Read past content). The County Commission votes on whether to allow these services to operate in Palm Beach County on Tuesday of this week. Please send a supportive email to BCC-AllCommissioners@pbcgov.org , which will email all county commissioners.

A sample support email is included below, courtesy of Complete Streets Palm Beaches. 

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Honorable Commissioners,

We ask that you embrace ridesharing and work with UberLyft, and similar companies to ensure continued access to safe, reliable and affordable transportation options, while also providing greater economic opportunities for our citizens. New technologies call for new regulatory approaches and we hope that you follow down that path and not stifle innovation.

Safety is our primary concern, noting that Uber and Lyft’s entry into markets have correlated with a drop in DUI arrests and a decline in drunk-driving crashes in cities across the country including PhiladelphiaSeattle, and across California. Ridesharing drivers have the ability to respond to demand in real-time, connecting riders with a safe and reliable means of transportation when they need it the most.

Furthermore, Uber has a $1M primary insurance policy that covers all trips, and conducts federal, state and local background checks going back 7 years. Even further, riders and drivers have the ability to rate one another, ensuring that both are having the best experience possible.

Our secondary concern is the cost of ridesharing versus traditional vehicle for hire options, which have semi-regulated fare prices. Uber and Lyft operate without this price floor and are able to provide more competitive price options to travelers.

We urge the county to craft modern regulations that embrace more choice and opportunity for everyone and create a permanent home for job-creating technologies such as ridesharing.

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Uber provides better service and transportation choice

The Palm Beach County Commission is scheduled to consider an ordinance regulating Uber Tuesday. The ordinance would allow Uber to operate legally in the County, with several conditions, while acknowledging a distinction between traditional taxicabs and vehicle for hire companies like Uber.

If taxicab companies sought any sympathy for their cause, they’ll find none here. Our regulatory regime essentially enforces a cartel, and they’ve long been in bed with the agencies that regulate them in order to maintain monopolistic pricing power. On a recent trip between downtown WPB and PBIA, I compared a trip of the same length on Uber versus a taxicab. The taxicab cost $16 versus $8 for Uber. My last experience with a taxicab was getting off Tri-Rail in downtown WPB to take a cab to my apartment. Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong did. The driver didn’t speak English, the cab smelled, and the credit card reader was broken. As my wife and I exited the cab and tried to find enough cash to pay, the cab driver kept the meter running. And if you need a receipt for business expense purposes? Good luck with that.

Innovation in this space is long overdue and that is what ride hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft are bringing to the table. The key point that needs to be understood in this conversation is that self-regulation is working better than government regulation in this market. How often does the County inspect its drivers and their cars? There are thousands of cabs in Palm Beach County, certainly. I would be surprised if the cars were inspected once per month. With ride hailing apps like Lyft and Uber, feedback is instantaneous and drivers are rated after every ride. Uber has a policy that if a driver rating falls below a certain threshold, they are kicked off the service. Economists surveyed strongly agree that ridehailing services improve consumer welfare (economist speak for well-being of consumers).

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Source: Vox.com, University of Chicago

Ridehailing services hold the potential to be much more than a better taxi service, though. Uber’s stated goal is a world with less cars, not more, with UberPool –  truly ‘ridesharing’. Here’s an infographic explaining how it works. uber_UK_infographic_v3

South Florida isn’t blessed with a resilient, multimodal transportation system, to say the least. We’ve put all our eggs in one basket: Automobility and prayed for the best. Never-ending lane widenings and congestion seems to be our fate. How do we break this vicious cycle of car dependency? I believe ridehailing services are part of the solution. Not the answer, but part of the response. Since these ride hailing services came into existence, I’ve cut my driving even further, namely on regional trips. Before Uber, taking Tri-Rail was more daunting. Hailing a taxi is always a dicey proposition; I’ve had numerous experiences with early morning flights and unresponsive taxi companies. Call, call, call… Finally have a taxi dispatched, promised to arrive in 10 minutes, only for it to arrive in 30. This unreliability is part of the reason I chose to drive in the past.

With ride hailing, I know exactly where my ride is and how long until it arrives.   This makes for reliable transportation to/from the station and solves the ‘last mile’ problem of transit to a large degree. This problem is especially relevant in South Florida because Tri-Rail isn’t built around walkable neighborhoods, so connection to your end destination is usually inevitable.

Example screenshot of Uber hailing: 

Now, I’ve been using Tri-Rail for my regional trips to Fort Lauderdale and to FLL. I credit Uber for making it a cheaper, easier, and more convenient option. In fact, I’m on Tri-Rail as I type this, on my way to downtown Fort Lauderdale.

If a marginal number of people decide to forego car ownership because services like carshare and ridehailing make it feasible to do so, we can start to reclaim the parking craters in our downtowns and walkable neighborhoods. With less car ownership, less parking can be provided in new developments and parking craters can be redeveloped.  A virtuous cycle of lowered car dependency, less need for parking, more walkable neighborhoods, and still lowered car dependency can take hold. This strategy must be coupled with smart transportation investments to connect our productive places (walkable downtowns) first. Chief among them: Tri-Rail Coastal Link and All Aboard Florida. Ridehailing services and carshare for intracity trips, when you need a car. Tri-Rail Coastal Link and AAF for intercity trips in our region. I can already hear the naysayers. “That won’t work here, South Florida is a car place!” Trends can reach a tipping point sooner than one might think. Our charge as a region is to allow choice and competition, and a better South Florida will result.

Email the County Commissioners, let them know you support ridehailing services:

BCC-AllCommissioners@pbcgov.org 

Detail from the Palm Beach Post story:

Palm Beach County commissioners will take a first vote for new plans for firms such as Uber at 11 a.m. Tuesday at their regular meeting. A public hearing and final vote is set for Aug. 18.

  • The industry would be split into two categories: regular taxis and app-based ride providers.

  • Taxi firms would have to have commercial car liability insurance, but the app-dependent freelance drivers could have either commercial or regular liability insurance with a minimum of $1 million per occurrence. The issue of when an Uber driver is covered by whom has been debated nationwide. Uber says drivers are covered by their personal insurance until the moment they tap their smartphone to accept a fare, and Uber’s insurer is a backup.

  • Freelance drivers would not need special taxi IDs but instead could use a company ID badge or a smart phone app for identification.

  • Taxi drivers would need “Level II” background checks, in which drivers’ fingerprints are checked against state and federal criminal history databases. Freelance driver firms could do their own background checks through an accredited agency.


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The face of Uber

[Story from The Palm Beach Post] Perhaps when you think of the sharing economy and ‘ride-hailing‘ services, this isn’t the prototypical user that comes to mind. Retiree Nancy Gregory pleaded with the County to keep the ridehailing service going at today’s vote on an operating agreement with Uber:

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Palm Beach Post photo

“If you cut Uber, I don’t know what I’ll do because I depend on them,” retiree Nancy Gregory of West Palm Beach told commissioners as tears came to her eyes. She said the application on her smart phone lets her see a picture of the driver and follow the progress of the vehicle and typically she has to wait only three to five minutes for a ride, and she feels more comfortable with Uber than with ordinary cabs.

In a close 4 to 3 vote, the County chose to allow Uber to continue operating through September 20th. Thanks to the County Commissioners who voted yes on this issue, including Steven Abrams and Hal Veleche.

This story illustrates something that our elected officials should bear in mind: As much as they might think Uber is just another overhyped Millennial generation fad, it is helping people like Nancy Gregory. There is a whole cohort of people in this country, let’s remember, that do not drive, voluntarily or involuntarily. I speak with many people who live downtown in either a car-light or car-free lifestyle, and Uber gives them a much-needed, reliable way to get around in the instances a car is required. It’s cheaper, faster, cleaner, and easier than using a traditional taxi. It’s a different experience and a better one.

Palm Beach County is a very car-dependent place, through decades of design and funding favoring the auto-centric development model. I see Uber as great way to leverage the walkable neighborhoods Palm Beach County has in places like Abacoa and the downtowns of Delray, Boca, and West Palm Beach (to name a few), and make it that much easier for households to downsize to one or even zero cars. What would an extra $9,000 in disposable income do for a Palm Beach County family, and for the county’s economy? I don’t know, but I’m certain it will be a good thing, which is more than I can say for some economic development schemes the County has hatched. Rather than being focused on hitting home runs, our County officials need to focus more on base hits that are lower risk and higher return to the taxpayer. We must do better to provide choice in transportation and Uber is a step forward in a positive direction.


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Disappointing day for on-demand ride services Uber and Lyft

In a decision that is sure to be looked at in a few years with astonishment, the County today voted to issue a cease and desist order for 10 days before an injunction begins. Sigh. This is like slapping telephone operators with fines when their disruptive business model began to threaten the telegram business. Uber and similar on-demand services are destined to transform the economy; it’s not a matter of if but when.

Complete Streets Palm Beaches is a new group that has launched with the intent to create more awareness of countywide livable streets and transportation issues, such as this, and to change public policy in a positive direction. Please follow the page for updates. Also, following is the letter I wrote to the Board of County Commissioners [email all commissioners – use BCC-AllCommissioners@pbcgov.org ]. Please feel free to copy and use it.

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Honorable Commissioners,

I ask that you allow Uber/Lyft and similar on-demand services to legally operate in Palm Beach County.

This is a classic case of regulation not keeping up with market innovation. In this case, the marketplace has actually provided a much better regulatory scheme through self-regulation. If you haven’t ridden Uber/Lyft before, please experience it before passing judgement. I can guarantee you will find the experience more pleasant and safe than riding in a traditional taxicab. Uber drivers are fully vetted and they are regulated by the most important party — the end user. Every driver is rated by the user after a ride and if their rating is low, they are kicked out of the system.

The genius of on-demand services is the ability to respond to demand in real-time. This keeps prices low. Uber is also a solution to the ‘last mile’ problem in public transportation – how do you get from a transit stop to your end destination? Uber provides a cheap answer.

Palm Beach County should embrace what is an inevitability – the transformation of our economy by on-demand services. The longer we wait, the more outdated and backwards we appear to the types of innovators and entrepreneurs we want to attract.