The Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission Wednesday voted 5-2 on proposed new rules that still include requiring Level II background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers — a mandate representatives from those companies have said would compel them to leave the market.
Though theoretically the new rules would allow new ridesharing companies to enter the market, the proprietor of one such company said after the meeting he would not enter the market operating under different rules than Uber and Lyft. The new rules could be implemented after a public hearing is held next month. Board members Guido Maniscalco and Ken Hagan dissented.
Other new provisions approved include allowing a driver to operate a car up to 10 years old, and allowing surge pricing up to 10 times their normal fare, but not during a time of emergency. However, the board did jettison two other controversial provisions voted on in a committee last week that would require a seven-minute waiting period and a $7 minimum fare.
When asked if the Level II background checks approved will now compel Uber to leave the market, Colin Tooze, public affairs manager with Uber, said that was a “business choice that we’ll have to make.”
“We’re going to wait and see what the rules look like,” Tooze added.
In addition to approving the new rules, the PTC board also voted to continue negotiations with the two rideshare firms to resolve ongoing lawsuits. A settlement agreement certified by a court could end the legal battles, but PTC Chair Victor Crist said the agency must maintain the Level II background checks as part of operating under a Special Act. Commissioners, however, could lobby the state Legislature to change that requirement.
Tooze said he thought the vote to discuss a possible settlement was a positive move, and unveiled a copy of the company’s own temporary operating agreement, which he said would include background screening requirements for all drivers before they are allowed to operate an Uber vehicle, including criminal and motor vehicle records screening along with national databases. It would also include $1 million in commercial auto liability insurance for every trip, semi-annual audits, and record checks by the PTC. He dismissed the notion that the PTC’s hands were tied because of the Special Act requiring Level II background checks.
“I’m skeptical that anyone’s hands are tied here,” he said about the PTC’s Level II requirement. “They’ve shown remarkable latitude in how they interpret the rules, how they interpret the Florida Constitution … where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
More than a hundred people — most of them Uber and/or Lyft drivers — flooded the county center’s chambers for the meeting.
Zach Jacobs presented a petition with 4,189 signatures of people in support of Uber and Lyft operating in Hillsborough. “Tampa’s only getting bigger, and we need to start acting like a big city” he said in support of why ridesharing services were essential to the region’s economic growth.
Topher Morrison dismissed the notion that using background checks that require fingerprinting is the gold standard and would guarantee customers a safe ride. He cited a National Institute of Justice report released earlier this year that reported that on average, 1,100 police officers (who are fingerprinted) are arrested every year in the U.S. He also mentioned the scandalous case of former Tampa school teacher Debra Lafave, who pled guilty to lewd or lascivious battery following a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old male student in the summer of 2004.
“This teacher and every other teacher in America needed to get fingerprint background checks,” Justin Morganman said. “Do you really think fingerprint checks are going to be different in any other industry? The answer is no, they won’t. Because past records don’t predict future behavior. We live in a weird world. And some people commit crimes.”
But Morganman said it was a “myth” that if forced to undertake Level II background checks, Uber and Lyft would leave the region. “They can stay. They can follow the rules, I know this because they do this in other cities like New York and Houston.”
“It’s time we passed these rules,” said attorney Seth Mills, who represents taxi companies in Tampa. “The truth is, they probably won’t follow them anyway,” he added. “We’re going to be in litigation, but don’t let that stop you.”
This is by no means the end of the road to this process. If the rules are approved again at the Oct. 13 PTC meeting, Uber and Lyft could request another state-level hearing to review the rules. If that is upheld, the PTC would then request an injunction to enforce the rules.
Also today, Hillsborough-Pinellas state Rep. Jamie Grant voiced his opposition to the proposed PTC rules via Facebook, where he showed a letter he sent to the Federal Trade Commission asking whether or not the proposed rules violate federal laws because they were written by taxicab and other ridesharing companies and not the PTC.
PTC board members spoke excitedly about getting new ridesharing companies to begin operating out of Hillsborough County, such as Phoenix-based Fare. However, the company’s CEO, Michael Leto, said after the meeting that he wouldn’t dare try to operate in the county until he knew everyone was working under the same rules. Fare went into the Austin, Texas market after Uber left there in May.