Miami police impounding Lyft drivers' cars

In a sting operation, Miami police are posing as Lyft riders and having the drivers' cars towed for operating illegally.

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It's Miami against the mustaches. SalBarajas/YouTube

My love affair with Florida justice is, these days, uncontrollable.

In recent weeks, a third Florida judge in seven months was arrested for DUI. Then there was the judge who was disbarred for life after exchanging 949 cell phone calls and 471 text messages with a prosecutor during a death penalty case.

My favorite, though -- of only the last two weeks -- was the judge in Brevard County, Fla., who had a different sort of relationship with a public defender. Judge John Murphy reportedly beat the public defender just outside the courtroom, shortly after telling him: "If I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now."

My extremities are, therefore, twitching at another interesting legal escapade, this time on the part of Miami's very fine police force.

It seems that the force is not with Lyft. The app that brings drivers and potential passengers together has, like its arch-competitor Uber, caused some friction among traditional cab and car services.

This may have something to do with the potential loss of profit its arrival could represent.

In Miami, though, the law has taken a dramatic course. Lyft drivers are being stung. As the Miami Herald reports, they are picking up passengers and taking them to swanky hotels and other fine destinations.

On arrival, they discover that these passengers aren't ordinary people. They are police officers, who have taken time out of their day to enforce the law.

What happens next is that the Lyft drivers have their cars impounded. They are also gifted with fines of up to $2,000 for not having a chauffeur registration and for operating a for-hire vehicle without a valid for-hire license.

As with so many areas of technology that have disrupted existing fiefdoms with one swift strangulatory move, the law didn't see the likes of Lyft coming.

Is it really a for-hire vehicle? Or, as a lawyer for the Lyft drivers insists, is it rather that these drivers are working part-time and using their own cars.

There are also no flat or metered rates. With Lyft, you either offer donations or payments, depending on which city you're in.

For Miami, Lyft lists a series of recommended rates: $1.60 per mile. $1.35 pickup fee. And a $5 cancellation charge.

Different locations have taken very different attitudes to these new car services. Uber and Lyft have been banned in Virginia. Uber is doing very well in New York City, but, because of local regulations, Lyft is banned there too. (Though it does operate in Buffalo and Rochester, NY.) Colorado has enacted a new law that brings ride-sharing companies under the Public Utilities Commission.

In Miami, the storm often comes before the calm. If the calm ever comes at all.

Local companies fear that the likes of Lyft and Uber have bottomless coffers to fight legal battles until they're admitted. Ray Gonzalez, the president and chief executive of Super Shuttle -- which operates from Miami airport -- described their attitude as "flipping off the county."

So now Lyft drivers must beware any resemblance their passengers have to police officers. What could be the giveaways? Broad, manly chests? A certain barely suppressed scowl?

There again, how many police officers can Miami put on this detail? Lyft drivers rate their passengers. One imagines that every impounding police officer will get the lowest possible grade, which means he or she will be unlikely ever to get a ride again.

Should Lyft become legal, that officer will presumably still be on the blacklist.

Imagine the fear, one busy night, when an off-duty officer, a touch the worse for wear, needs a ride home. There are no regular cabs available.

He looks down at his cell phone and curses.

 

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