By Lucas Seiler
Collier County commissioners deregulated the local transportation industry Tuesday, October 27 2015, essentially throwing out all of the rules for taxis, limousines and app-based companies like Uber and Lyft.
The county's vehicle-for-hire ordinance will be wiped off the books -- meaning no more fees to obtain a proper commercial license, criminal background checks or vehicle registration confirmation for anyone working in the industry.
The decision prompted a shouting match inside a Collier County government building as leaders wrapped up the meeting.
"Why? What about the people? You have to care about the people," Marceau Berteau, who drives for First Call Taxi, yelled to a group of Uber supporters. "All you care about is money! Uber only cares about money!"
The vote will be remembered as one of the most controversial of 2015, thanks to Uber and its dramatic influence on an extremely competitive market -- one leaders said they cannot and will not regulate anymore.
"I think safety should be first in this community," said Berteau, who has had to pay for every fee the county had required to obtain a vehicle for hire license.
Despite not having to pay them anymore, he's still upset.
"All of the money that I spent I do not get that back," he said.
They are the same fees Uber drivers have declined to pay for the last year, which caused a crackdown by Collier County Code Enforcement personnel until they couldn't keep up anymore.
"It comes down to who's a better regulator? The government or the people? The reality is, and history has shown this time and time again, that people know what's best for themselves," said Jared Grifoni of the Libertarian Party of Collier County, also an Uber supporter.
Commissioners admit there is not enough manpower to locate and cite the unlicensed drivers, and that because taxis and Uber drivers often travel county to county, regulation should be left up to the state.
Just like Uber, transportation companies often require background checks of their own. Now, not only are they not required to operate legally in Collier County, independent drivers will also operate with no oversight. As long as you can obtain and supply a valid drivers license, your past is irrelevant, even if you're a convict.
"It's unlikely to think otherwise that people in this situation aren't going to gravitate toward driving a vehicle for hire," said Ray Mundy, director of UMSL Center for Transportation Studies.
Commissioner Penny Taylor cast the only vote against deregulation.
The Florida House has introduced a bill that would regulate app-based companies and prohibit local governments from weighing in, but it does not have a companion bill from the Florida Senate.