June 10, 2014 / 12:15 AM / 4 years ago

Authorities clamp down on ride-sharing services in Miami

MIAMI, June 9 (Reuters) - Simon Teame Chierici, a driver with the ride-sharing startup Lyft, slips behind the wheel of his Chevy Cruze but decides not to display the company’s signature furry pink mustache on the front of his car.

The 50-year-old part-time Italian-language tutor and financial adviser is among a group of Miami drivers who are defying county officials and driving for the unlicensed service.

He is also undeterred by news police in Miami are running sting operations to prevent Lyft drivers from offering rides.

“I’m not so worried,” said Chierici, who said he earns about $26 an hour driving passengers.

Miami-Dade County officials have refused to license drivers for Lyft and Uber, a similar service, arguing the driver-owned vehicles should comply with the same regulations as taxi companies.

Lyft and Uber, however, argue they are different, describing themselves as technology companies that provide mobile applications connecting private drivers with passengers.

The service has been welcomed in some parts of the country, but faced fierce criticism in others, led by taxi drivers and cab companies.

Last week, Virginia issued cease-and-desist orders to drivers who use the companies’ services, while Colorado became the first U.S. state to pass legislation regulating companies that help the public hail rides from drivers via smartphone apps.

Lyft and Uber launched in Miami last month despite the risk of heavy fines and after an unsuccessful two-year lobbying effort to persuade Miami lawmakers to change the regulations.

Since then, the county has impounded three cars and fined eight drivers as much as $2,000, according to Raul Gonzalez, an official with Miami-Dade County’s regulatory and economic resources department.

Police in Miami have posed as riders and then issued fines to the drivers.

Critics say Uber and Lyft drivers skirt the regulatory system for taxi drivers and companies that requires large, up-front fees, a lengthy certification process and regular vehicle inspections.

Taxi permits, called medallions, fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece at auctions in Miami.

“People mortgage their homes to buy these and suddenly you go and pull the blanket out from them,” said Diego Feliciano, president of the South Florida Taxi Cab Association.

Rachel Holt, an Uber general manager, argued many drivers who use the company’s service do not plan on making it a full-time job.

“These may be folks who want a part-time thing to make a little bit of money or who may be in between jobs,” she said.

Lyft and Uber have caught the attention investors. Uber said last week it had raised $1.2 billion in a funding round that valued the service at more than $18 billion.

Lyft raised $250 million from investors in early April.

Chierici said he is risking a hefty fine because he has found a job he enjoys.

“It’s freedom,” he said. “It’s having your own office wherever you go in the city without having anyone on top of you.” (Editing by Kevin Gray and Mohammad Zargham)

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