Taxi companies in Tallahassee and Broward County are suing the state over app-based transportation services, alleging that Florida officials aren't requiring Uber and Lyft to prove that the way they calculate trip distances --- and charges --- is accurate.
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services certifies taxi drivers' meters --- which measure distances, and, consequently, charges --- but doesn't do anything to ensure that the GPS-based systems on Uber and Lyft drivers' cell phones, also used to calculate charges, are correct, according to the lawsuit.
That puts the taxi drivers at an economic disadvantage, alleges the lawsuit, filed by Tallahassee lawyers Steven Andrews; his son, Ryan Andrews, and Brian Finnerty.
The lawyers want Uber and Lyft to have to submit their software systems for tracking drivers --- as well as the drivers' cell phones --- to the agriculture department for inspection. They're also asking the court to order the department to immediately begin collecting fees from the transportation network companies, called TNCs.
Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds issued an order about an hour after the lawsuit was filed giving the agriculture department 20 days to show why he shouldn't grant the cab companies' request.
Oversight by the department is necessary to protect riders from "false and deceptive or inaccurate fares," argued the lawyers, who represent Tallahassee-based Capitol Transportation; B & L Services, a taxi company based in Broward County; and Tallahassee Uber customer Jeremy Lynch.
Companies like Uber and Lyft, which are not defendants in the lawsuit, use cell phone apps to connect customers searching for rides with drivers. The companies then use the same technology, connected with GPS on the drivers' phones, to measure the time and distance of the rides and calculate the customers' fares.
"The taxicab meter serves the exact same purpose as the TNC driver's handheld GPS device utilized in conjunction with the TNC's technology and platform: they both are necessary to compute the time and distance associated with a commercial passenger trip taken in a taxicab or a private car utilized by a TNC driver, in order to determine the customer's fare. Thus, there is no material difference between the taxicab meter and the TNC driver's handheld GPS device and the TNC's technology and platform," they wrote in the 96-page lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The lawsuit points to an example of an Uber driver who charged a Brooklyn woman more than $16,000 for a seven-mile ride to Manhattan in March.
"There could be no clearer example for the need for Uber's platform, technology, and each Uber driver's GPS to be measured, tested, and certified by the state of Florida utilizing the standards promulgated by the Department of Agriculture in conformity with National Institute of Standards and Technology," wrote the lawyers.
Uber officials said the charge was a mistake and apologized to the rider a month later. A company spokesman declined to comment on the Florida lawsuit. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
The drivers' cell phones and the Uber platform should be considered a single device and should be regulated by the state's weights and measures law, Ryan Andrews said.
"The measures that Uber uses fall squarely within the definition of the statute," he said.
Florida law includes an exemption for inspection of the transportation-services measuring devices by the agriculture department if local governments perform the tests. According to the lawsuit, Broward County and Tallahassee, which both have ordinances regulating car services like Uber and Lyft, don't require the tests.
The lawsuit is the latest salvo in the battle between the app-based transportation services like Uber and taxi drivers in Florida.
The app-based companies have tried but failed to get lawmakers to pass legislation that would override local ordinances regulating the transportation services. Earlier this summer, San Francisco-based Uber set up a web page to gather signatures from riders and supporters in an attempt to get the Legislature to consider ride-sharing issues during a June special session on the budget. Lawmakers did not take up the issue.
"There have been efforts for the last couple years to legislate. I don't know what will happen there, but in the meantime there are a set of laws on the books that do require certain things that have been enforced against the cab industry for decades that should be enforced against anybody who is providing services that requires some type of measuring instrument, such as scales in grocery stores, gas pumps and so on," said B & L Services owner John Camillo.