Local taxi driver files federal lawsuit against Uber and Lyft

Savannah Vasquez

Tim Anderson of CABS.WS Technologies LLC., has a problem. His taxi service, as well as his online website connecting customers with drivers is taking a hit. Anderson said new ride-share mobile application platforms Uber and Lyft are unfairly competing against his business and he has now filed a federal lawsuit against the companies.

“It just started in this area in March,” Anderson said of the mobile platform use in the Northwest Florida area. “Spring break, that's when I first noticed they were here. I used to get calls every minute, but it went down to two to three calls per hour. I also noticed a shift in where people were looking for taxis. What I've noticed is people are not looking for cabs in search engines, they are looking for taxis in apps.”

Anderson said the main problem he has with the mobile platforms is that they employee the use of unlicensed for-hire vehicles and advertise as a taxi service without following the lawful channels of running such a business.

“The main goal is that I don't want the legal drivers in this area to be put out of business by illegal providers like Uber and Lyft,” said Anderson. “I think that's wrong when you have people that pay for licensing… I think it's stealing.”

Uber, founded in 2009, promotes itself as an online and mobile technology platform and encourages individuals to sign up as independent contractors utilizing their own vehicles to offer transportation service and make money doing it. However, Uber states in it's service description that the company does not provide transportation.

Basically, the company acts as a platform for individuals to arrange transportation with independent contractors. The Log reached out to both Uber and Lyft for comment on their business model and Anderson's allegations against them, but no response was received by press time.

However, Anderson said he sees a problem with the lack of communication between Uber and it's drivers as the Uber drivers he has encountered in the area are offering for-hire services that are out of compliance with local laws.

“The thing that made me write the lawsuit was the overwhelming amount of incidents of operating without a for-hire permit,” he said. “A local World War II veteran signed up to drive for Uber, and they (local law enforcement) trespassed him. We've got 100 records of law violations, and what I have a problem with is, there are no warnings to the drivers of Uber or Lyft that they are breaking the law or are subject to arrest.”

Legal Process

The process of legalizing a taxi business in the state of Florida involves several steps, but is not too complicated, Anderson said.

First a for-hire driver must gain a business license within the county, and sometimes an additional license within the city of operation.

Okaloosa County Tax Collector Ben Anderson said the county license is only $35 a year, and the process is simple.

“Several years ago we made it very simple for a business tax receipt, that's a requirement of all businesses to have if they operate in Okaloosa County whether it be a hotel, a taxi cab driver, a small paint contactor or a large corporation,” he said. “We worked with the county commission to simplify this process for the Okaloosa community; where once we had 333 different types of business tax receipts we narrowed it down to two types of business receipts.”

The tax collector said that while most businesses fall under the county category, some businesses do require state regulated licenses. 

“The second type are those that are state regulated like a real estate agent,” he said adding that in regards to Uber, the county may need to reassess the licensing process for taxi services. “There's a lot of issues that may become state regulated with regard to taxi cab drivers, where that was once regarded as sufficient under the county,” he said.

To operate a for-hire service at an airport, drivers must pay fees for the rights to pick up or drop off at the facility as well as pay proper car insurance coverage.

Anderson told The Log that permits for airport taxis vary by location as the Destin/Fort Walton Beach Airport requires and annual $400 fee for drop offs while Panama City requires $250 per month.

“Each commercial airport is different,” he said. “The problem is we now have Uber drivers coming in there and picking up their fares, and every time Uber is picking up a fare, they are taking money out of the pockets of drivers who have paid the rights to legally pick up the fare.”

Okaloosa County Airports Deputy Director Michael Stenson said that there is now a crack-down on unpermitted vehicles performing for-hire pick-ups at the airport.   

“Currently, network transportation companies such as Uber or Lyft are not authorized to operate from the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport as the Okaloosa County Ordinance requires that all for-hire transportation companies be permitted,” he said. “For the safety of our passengers, the airport only issues the permit after it is determined that the operator meets the ordinance required background check, insurance, vehicle inspection and applicable fee payment.”

However, Stenson said the airport is open to supporting the companies if they meet the full legal requirements.

“We have reached out to Uber to come to an agreement, but they have not yet responded,” he said.

In Destin, taxi regulations will soon be discussed by the city council, as the issue has recently been brought to the city's attention.

 “The city currently does not have any regulations on the operations of taxi cab businesses other than that the business has to have a business tax receipt,” said Public Information Manager Doug Rainer. “The agenda item is slated for next Monday night's meeting, and addresses the city's ability to create regulations.”

Healthy Competition

For now, Anderson said he hopes his lawsuit will generate enough support amongst local taxi drivers and lawmakers to bring about a change that will benefit taxi businesses.

“If we did get it to a jury I would be interested to see what would 12 people say,” said Anderson. “Is this a taxi company, or is this something different?”

Anderson said that he is not necessarily asking for a cease and desist rule to Uber and Lyft, he just hopes to see the companies comply with local laws as the other taxi drivers in the area.

Anderson said he will be content if Uber and Lyft apologize and strike a deal to restore healthy competition.

“If we could reach a deal with them to generate taxi runs for legal providers and pay drivers for loss of income, I would like to present that deal to the people in the class,” he said.