Hillsborough PTC approves new rules — Future uncertain for Uber and Lyft - Florida Politics

Hillsborough PTC approves new rules — Future uncertain for Uber and Lyft

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.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

4 Comments

  1. Personally I’d rather drive and ride with a company who uses gps on both rider and driver for every ride because to me that is safer seeing as if a crime is committed we know both parties involved… that and if both parties are being gps’d then it gives them the notion that they can’t get away with something…. I don’t like cabs in the fact that I can hail one from the side of the road…. if I was a cab driver I wouldn’t feel safe wat if I pick them up and they have a gun or a bomb… no one would know who they are or what they will do next… with uber and lyft having all thos gps riding technology and having the credit card and bank information of its riders and drivers the only person who’s gonna do a crime is a stupid one… ur gonna get caught… sounds more like the cab company’s need to update their rider policies… not to say any of the cab drivers arnt gonna go postal like anyone else in america… can’t control someone going crazy and can’t predict it… but then again it’s all public record anyway… who needs extra protection when u can track both parties using gps and their personal information… food for thought… what if people who take these fingerprint background checks with cab companies go on strike with their rider and both the rider and driver vanish how do we know who the rider is? Or where they were last seen? I guess we won’t because half the time we know nothing about the rider of a cab.. sounds more dangerous and unsafe… maybe if that’s the case cab drivers should receive a dangerous and hazardous duty pay like the military seeing as they put their lives on the line for the government transportation everyday 😉

    1. If all this is true then why are there so many assaults, sexual assaults and rapes associated with Uber drivers? A little research will bring up thousands of issues with Uber drivers.
      Also, why do people keep shrugging off that, in a sting operation at LAX, they found uber drivers that had convictions of theft, identity theft, burglary, assaults, sexual assaults, a kidnapping, and murder. Not to mention the drivers that were not who they claimed to be. This stuff is all out there for everyone to see, in fact, there have been lawsuits over their background checks and how they’ve misled the public about how good their background checks are. People need to wake up about this company and what they are getting away with.
      The biggest problem really is that Uber is not responsible for anything the drivers do because they aren’t classed as employees and when you use their app you are agreeing to let them off the hook completely for anything that a driver/partner might do. Until Uber is held responsible for what their drivers do nothing will change. Why would Uber care who passes their laxed background checks if they aren’t responsible in the end anyway. If they were responsible for the drivers you can bet they would be doing everything in their power to make sure these driver/partners were vetted properly.

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