Keys man says Uber told him he can no longer drive for the company in Key West

Three Uber drivers in Keys men have been arrested in Key West for violating the city's vehicle-for-hire law.
Three Uber drivers in Keys men have been arrested in Key West for violating the city's vehicle-for-hire law.

Uber has worn out its official welcome -- not that it's ever had one -- in the Southernmost City.

The popular app-based ride service, which started in Key West in December, has all but officially ceased operations in the city following the arrest Friday of an Uber driver undercover police detectives.

Martin Maness, 51, is charged with two misdemeanor counts of violating the city's vehicle-for-hire licensing ordinance after giving a ride to the street-clothes cops from Key West International Airport on South Roosevelt Boulevard to the Reach Resort at 1435 Simonton St.

He charged $11.15 for the ride in the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. The arrest followed a public notice issued by the city that it would crack down on unlicensed vehicles for hire.

"Maness said the money was worth the risk," police spokeswoman Alyson Crean said.

Uber apparently doesn't want to deal with Key West's new crackdown, just like it said it was pulling out of Broward County at the end of the month.

Key Largo resident and Uber driver Bill Malley said Uber called him Monday saying he can no longer work for the company in Key West.

Malley, an Uber driver since Memorial Day weekend, said he picked up about 80 people in Key West between last Thursday and Saturday. He's also an Uber driver in the Upper Keys.

"I don't see where it's economically damaging to any taxi company," said Malley, who owns a public relations company. "I've got to pay my bills."

Uber did not confirm whether it has officially pulled out of Key West but Uber spokesman Bill Gibbons said in an e-mail Monday that "Key West officials have resorted to intimidation and harassment."

"We hope Key West will reconsider and work with us to develop a modern regulatory framework for ridesharing in this community," Gibbons wrote.

The Keynoter on Tuesday was unable to use Uber's mobile application to request a ride in Key West. However, the San Francisco-based company still appears to operate throughout the Keys, from Big Pine Key to Key Largo. And at least two Uber drivers in Marathon showed up on the app Tuesday.

Monroe County has no vehicle-for-hire law in the unincorporated area. But for the Key West airport, which it owns, it requires a for-hire license because it's Key West law. It also requires an airport permit.

Marathon has a licensing law for taxis. If wasn't clear Tuesday if Islamorada has one.

Uber started Dec. 4 in Key West. On Dec. 20, undercover Key West police cited Uber drivers Richard Owen Uhl, 61, and Henry Braxton Allen, 34, for driving without a vehicle-for-hire license. Both cases are pending in court.

Allen said he might take a plea deal but wants to avoid having a criminal record. He's in the process of getting a new lawyer. 

"When I got arrested, there was no warning," Allen said Monday.

Key West's vehicle-for-hire licenses have been unavailable for more than 20 years.

The only ways to get a license would be to buy an existing one from another license holder or the City Commission could hold a public hearing on requests for new licenses in October of each even-numbered year.

Assuming new licenses are deemed necessary, they would be distributed on a random basis. The last drawing of taxi licenses took place in 1992.

Maness, the driver arrested Friday, bailed out of jail early Saturday morning on $701 bond. He's due in court for arraignment July 30 at 9 a.m. in front of Monroe County Judge Peary Fowler at the Freeman Justice Center in Key West. He could receive up to 60 days in jail and be fined $500.