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Bill regulating ride-sharing in Florida advances in Senate Committee

Legislation to provide statewide regulations for transportation network companies (TNC’s) advanced in its latest committee stop in the Florida Senate Tuesday.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes‘ bill (SB 340) received only two votes in opposition in clearing the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, though there were substantial concerns expressed about funding for paratransit that animated the debate.

Noting that there is a hole in disability transportation, Parkland Democrat Gary Farmer offered an amendment that would assess ride-sharing companies one-half of one percent of TNC gross revenues go to the state and then be redistributed to the counties that would pay for disability transportation.

Farmer said that in 14 states, ride-sharing companies had been assessed fees “for one thing or another,” and thus it wasn’t outside the mainstream to do so in Florida.

Miami Republican Rene Garcia called Farmer’s amendment “well-intentioned,” but said the real answer was to address the needs of the state’s Transportation Disadvantaged program.

Garcia said he intended to present a bill or add as an amendment during the session that would allow for operators in the program to cross county lines.

“Unfortunately right now we don’t have that system that’s fully integrated that crosses county lines and so forth,” Garcia said, adding that work has been going on behind the scenes to put that into legislation into place. He also said some local boards aren’t administrating federal and state paratransit funds in the most efficient way.

Farmer’s amendment ultimately went down to defeat.

Along with Farmer, the only other dissenting vote for the entire legislation in the committee came from Panama City Republican George Gainer, who said he didn’t understand why ride-sharing companies needed to be regulated by the state when that wasn’t the case with taxicabs.

“The goal here is to establish the statewide standard in both insurance and background checks, so that both business travelers, residents and tourists, understand that they have seamless transportation options as it relates to this technology,” Brandes told Gainer.

The Florida League of Cities also continues to oppose the legislation, specifying criticizing the background check policy that will require TNC drivers to get background checks only every three years, “which could result in drivers who committed criminal acts still driving for these companies within that window,” said Megan Sirjane-Samples.

The committee did approve two amendments that Brandes added to the legislation, including authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from ports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

In the original bill, only airports were allowed to charge pickup fees.

The amendment also requires ride-sharing companies to contract with the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) to review their insurance and background check process. Specifically, the DFS can impose civil penalties Uber or Lyft if they are noncompliant.

The first violation would result in a $250 penalty for each incidence of noncompliance within a review, and $500 per any repeated noncompliance issues within a report.

The legislation requires Uber and Lyft to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger.

While driving a rider, they’re required to have $1 million worth of coverage. The bill also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

“The bipartisan vote in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee is another step toward ensuring Florida doesn’t fall behind the transportation innovation curve,” said Stephanie Smith, senior manager of public policy with Uber.

“We are grateful for Sen. Brandes’ advocacy on this important issue and applaud the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for approving this legislation,” said Lyft’s Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “This is a significant step toward a uniform, statewide framework for modern options like Lyft and we look forward to continuing to advocate for expanded consumer choice that keeps public safety first.”

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

Jeff Brandes amends ridesharing bill in Florida Senate

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes has amended his ridesharing bill (SB 340) that has been moving its way through the Florida Senate.

Among those changes include authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from seaports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

In the original bill, only airports were allowed to charge pickup fees.

The amendment also requires ridesharing companies to contract with the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) to review their insurance and background check process. Specifically, the DFS can impose civil penalties on Uber or Lyft if they are noncompliant. The first violation would result in a $250 penalty for each incidence of noncompliance within a review, and $500 per any repeated noncompliance issues within a report.

The DFS would have authorization “to shut down bad actors” and prohibit specific drivers from operating on platforms if they are noncompliant.

The legislation requires Uber and Lyft to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While driving a rider, they’re required to have $1 million worth of coverage. The bill also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

Insurance companies have plenty to worry about as Legislative Session opens

The insurance industry already has a good idea how one of it’s top priorities for the 2017 Legislative Session seems likely to go. It found out when the House and Senate unveiled their plans for fixing the workers’ compensation system Friday.

But there’s more than that to worry about as session opens Tuesday.

The industry is also looking for a fix for assignment of benefits abuse, and waiting to see whether the Legislature will make the state’s personal injury protection mandate for auto insurance go away.

There’s an abortion bill that could affect medical malpractice rates. One to let plaintiffs collect prejudgment interest on legal damages. Even Uber is on the menu.

The Senate workers’ compensation bill takes direct aim at the National Council on Compensation Insurance, which proposes premium levels for most of the insurers in Florida.

SB 1582 would require insurers to file their own rates, presumably encouraging them to compete on price.

The House bill wouldn’t go that far — it merely allows insurers to deviate from a common rate by up to 5 percent, subject to approval by the Office of Insurance Regulation.

Both measures would retain attorney fee caps, linked to the benefits won, that were struck down as unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court last year. But they allow deviations when warranted by the degree of difficulty or time involved.

The measures would be more generous with permanent disability awards, would change the reimbursement scheme for hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers, and would require claims to spell out the benefits sought and why.

There wasn’t much immediate reaction from the industry, but Richard Chait, chairman of the Florida Justice Association’s workers’ comp committee, called the Senate plan “a step in the right direction.”

Cracking down on abuse of assignment of benefits, or AOB, agreements is the top legislative priority this year for Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Florida’s insurer of last resort, and for Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.

Altmaier’s idea is to change Florida’s one-way attorney fee statute so that contractors can’t use it to enforce AOBs. Only named policyholders or a limited number of their designees could do that.

“It would clarify that, if you’re a homeowner, and you own the policy, it’s your name on the policy, you have the benefit of the one-way attorney fee,” Altmaier said after presenting his plan to the Cabinet recently. “If your name is not on the policy, then you don’t. It’s just as simple as that.”

Sen. Jeff Brandes is among the lawmakers pushing for repeal of mandatory PIP — which, a study released in September suggested — could save drivers an average $81 per car.

However, consumers could end up paying more for other lines of coverage.

A Senate committee has discussed abandoning PIP in favor of a system whereby people injured in auto accidents can sue to recover against bodily injury policies held by drivers found at fault.

Other items on the agenda:

Flood insurance: Brandes is sponsoring SB 420, which would encourage Florida insurers to write flood insurance as an alternative to expensive federal coverage. Existing law allows insurers to offer flood policies through 2019 without having to wait for the Office of Insurance Regulation to review their rates. Brandes’ bill would extend that until 2025.

HMOs: SB 262, by Greg Steube, would allow patients to sue HMOs for declining to cover doctors’ treatment recommendations in bad faith.

“Why shouldn’t the HMOs be held liable for the decisions they make and the doctors aren’t making, and people are dying? I just don’t think that’s equitable,” the Sarasota Republican said during a committee hearing.

Existing law exempts HMOs from liability for treatment decisions by doctors with whom they contract to treat patients.

State employees’ health insurance: PCB HHS 17-01 would allow workers to choose between four plans offering different benefits levels, and pay premiums accordingly, beginning in 2020.

If the state’s contribution for a premium were more than the cost of the plan selected by an employee, they could use the remainder to fund a flexible spending arrangement or health savings plan; purchase additional benefits; or apply it to their salary.

Doctor’s prerogatives: HB 161, by Danny Burgess, and SB 240, by Tom Lee would authorize a direct primary care system, described by proponents at the Florida Medical Association as “an alternative to the traditional fee-for-service model in which patients are charged a simple, affordable flat monthly fee for comprehensive coverage of all primary care services.”

These arrangements are intended to prevent chronic illnesses and reduce administrative expenses. They would not be subject to oversight by the state Office of Insurance Regulation.

Abortion: Medical malpractice insurers are alarmed about HB 19, by Erin Grall, which would create a cause of action by women against doctors who performed an abortion without informed consent as many as 10 years later.

Mark Delegal, with the Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurance business, has argued the measure would undo medical malpractice reforms passed by the Florida Legislature in 2003 — including a two-year statute of limitations.

Prejudgment interest: CS/HB 469 would allow plaintiffs to recover interest on noneconomic claims, including pain and suffering, at a rate set 4.9 percent but varying with inflation — from the date of a loss.

They could collect against attorney fees and costs, too. Existing law provides for prejudgment interest on economic claims only, or when provided for by contract.

A companion measure, by Steube, has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Uber/Lyft: CS/HB 221 would create statewide regulations governing transportation network companies. That’s car-sharing operations like Uber and Lyft. Among other things, the bill would require the companies to insure each car.

“For far too long, TNC drivers have been operating under their personal insurance policies, which may not cover them or their passengers in an event of a crash,” Samantha Sexton, of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, said after the bill cleared the House Government Accountability Committee.

Omnibus: HB 454, by Brandes, cleans up various provisions of the state’s insurance regulations. For example, it would repeal the scheduled 2019 sunset of medical malpractice insurers’ exemption from emergency assessments in case of a catastrophe, and would allow insurers to charge handling fees if a premium check bounces.

Lobbyists tend to view any cleanup bill warily, lest it turn into a “train” carrying provisions they might not like.

Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition pushes for statewide bill to get passed this year

Last year in the Florida Legislature, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to create statewide regulations regarding ridesharing, but the bill died ignominiously in the state Senate.

Similar bills are winding their way through committees in both chambers already in 2017, and on Wednesday, the group Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition announced their support for that legislation, being sponsored in the House by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant and in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes.

“We fully support legislation that embraces innovation, and legislation that creates predictable regulatory climate across the entire state for ridesharing companies,” said Frank Walker, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce on a conference call.

Florida is one of only 12 states in the nation that has yet to create a statewide law regarding ridesharing, or transportation network companies (TNC’s) as they are also known.

In 2016, the drama was in the Florida Senate, where Uber blamed Senate President Andy Gardiner for the inability for the ridesharing legislation to advance. He’s been succeeded by Palm City Republican Joe Negron, who has praised the current legislation.

“I think you’ve got two different bodies then you had last year,” said Walker, when asked why he’s more optimistic that the bill will pass this year. He also said that there is simply more demand for Uber and Lyft. “Environment plays a big role, and so does demand,” he said.

No region of the state has more interest in seeing a ridesharing bill passed than in the Tampa Bay area. That’s because of the large unpopularity with the body charged in Hillsborough County to regulate Uber and Lyft, the Public Transportation Commission.

Over the years, PTC officers have cited numerous Lyft and Uber drivers for operating illegally. Those actions ceased after the PTC finally passed a bill last fall bringing the two companies into compliance.

“Local regulations at best have been problematic and dysfunctional, and have not been helping to foster and grow the local economy, and that’s why we need a statewide regulation,” said Bob Rohrlack, President/CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Rohrlack blamed “the status quo,” meaning the taxicab industry predominantly, for putting up roadblocks to protect, and not grow markets. “The local regulations penalize entrepreneurs. That’s something that none of us should be accepting,” he said.

In previous years, there has been criticism that the ridesharing companies have not been accommodating towards the disabled. But Kim Galban-Countryman, Executive Director of Lighthouse of the Big Bend, says the TNC’s are helping people with disabilities, especially those living with vision loss.

“Convenient transportation options are an absolute necessity for people with vision loss, and ridesharing introduces a simple affordable means to get around,” Galban-Countryman says.”Through various voice activated systems and services, individuals with visual impairments who otherwise would not have access to convenient transportation options can maintain their independence, and call a Lyft or Uber driver to take them where they need to go.”

Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition was formed before the 2016 Legislative Session.

 

 

Ridesharing bill advances 21-1 in House committee

A bill to create statewide regulations for ridesharing companies easily advanced in its last committee stop Tuesday in the Florida House, but not without some dissent from a handful of Democrats on the panel.

The bill (HB 221) is sponsored by Tampa Republican Jamie Grant and Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls, and officials with Uber and Lyft are hoping that this is finally the year that such legislation is finally passed.

The bill would require transportation network companies to have third-parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers. People would be prohibited from becoming rideshare drivers if they have three moving violations in the prior 3-year period; have been convicted of a felony within the previous five years; or have been convicted of a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, hit and run, or attempting to flee a law enforcement officer within the past five years.

It also calls for drivers to carry insurance coverage worth $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident and $25,000 for property damage when picking up passengers. Coverage would jump to a minimum of $1 million in coverage in the case of death, bodily injury and property damage while a passenger is in the vehicle.

The bill also tells local governments they cannot set their own conflicting regulations, which is why the Florida League of Cities opposes it.

All told, 21 of the 22 members of the House Committee on Government Accountability supported the bill. The lone dissenter was Miami Gardens Democrat Barbara Watson, who said she has severe concerns about safety, specifically taking issue with the fact that background checks on ride-sharing drivers will only take place every three years.

“This bill is lacking in so many ways,” she said. “So many public safety issues are brought to bear.”

Democrat Kristen Diane Jacobs said she continues to consider the fact that the bill does not mandate signage on rideshare vehicles to be “problematic.”  She stated that the problem is now acute at the Fort Lauderdale airport and seaport.

“Somewhere along the line I hope we realize that signage is not only good for the company, the company’s already doing it, it’s good for those who are calling for the service, and I also think it’s really important for those governments that are having to do with so many drivers on governmental property,” Jacobs said.

“It’s been a cluster,” Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith cracked regarding the lack of uniformity of ridesharing from city to city in Florida. “The reality is when tourists come to our state, they’re coming from around the country, they arrive in airports in our state, and they’re confused because they’re able to request Uber and Lyft rides at certain airports, but they’re not able to request them in other airports.”

Like Watson, he also expressed concerns about the safety standards on ridesharing vehicles. The Sprowls-Grant bill (sponsored in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes) does not require mandatory vehicle inspections, as happens in most local jurisdictions regarding taxicabs and limousines.

“Our work on this bill, I think is far from done,” Guillermo Smith said, blasting the notion that the Ubers and Airbnb’s of the world are the future of the workforce in America. “I hope not, because most Uber drivers are driving for supplemental income,” he said.

The taxicab industry remains unsatisfied as well with the progress of the bill.

Louis Minardi, the owner of Yellow Cab Company of Tampa, feared that the bill allows for very limited oversight of ridesharing vehicles, “because most cities and counties will quit doing what they were doing before,” regarding regulations.

Other critics, like Dwight Mattingly from Palm Beach County, said that with more public transit agencies partnering up with Uber and Lyft, TNC drivers “must conform” to the same regulations that public for hire vehicles have had to adapt to.

Sprowls disagreed, saying those transit agencies can place those regulations in contracts with those companies. “If they want to add more onerous regulation than we have in our bill because they feel that they want to…they are able to do that,” he said.

A former prosecutor, Sprowls disputed the notion that a Level II background check is more rigorous than the ones that ridesharing drivers will be subjected to. “The FBI database has 95 million records. These multistage databases that we specifically outline in the bill, have 500 million records,” he said.

After passage of the bill, Uber and Lyft representatives were ecstatic.

“Today’s bipartisan vote is an encouraging indication that lawmakers recognize the safety and economic value of statewide access to ridesharing,” said Javi Correoso, public affairs manager with Uber Florida. “At Uber, our highest priority is the well-being of riders and drivers alike. Our commitment to innovation has created a layered system using the latest technology to protect all involved.

“Today’s approval of the ridesharing bill by the House Government Accountability Committee clears the way for this important legislation to be voted on by the full House,” said Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “We are grateful for the advocacy of Reps. Sprowls and Grant on behalf of the millions of passengers and drivers who benefit from ridesharing in Florida. We look forward to continuing to advocate for consistent statewide rules for ridesharing that expand economic activity, prioritize public safety, and encourage innovation across the state.”

Ridesharing smoothing the roads in Florida

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber; it’s also no secret that I am NOT a big fan of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, a bully of a governmental entity applying 19th-century thinking to a 21st-century innovation.

The PTC’s blatant quest to stifle ridesharing while clinging to the outmoded taxi and limo industry has been as disgraceful as it is misguided. This should be the final nail in the coffin of the PTC, and, hopefully, the powers in Tallahassee will eliminate the PTC once and for all.

But there’s more involved here than just abolishing an outmoded, cumbersome and shady local commission. Ridesharing is a nationwide trend that extends far beyond just Hillsborough County — and the regulatory solution is one that should be addressed by state lawmakers.

Last week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law statewide ridesharing legislation, making it the 38th state in the country to have a statewide framework in place. Florida is already several years behind in embracing ridesharing, and the sad PTC episode shows why it’s high time our Legislature adopted a uniform statewide set of regulations to encourage ridesharing throughout the Sunshine State.

The Hillsborough PTC’s Neanderthal attitude reminds me of the people who used to sell horse buggies — couldn’t believe anyone would fall for the scam of those newfangled horseless carriages. When times changed and proved them wrong, they were done. The taxi industry has behaved the same way, trying to ignore the inevitable. The PTC is a government entity that isn’t supposed to take sides, but it aligned itself squarely with the buggy salesmen.

If each of Florida’s 67 counties tried adopting its own approach to transportation network services, our state would be a hodgepodge of inconsistent regulations. Drivers wouldn’t be able to cross county lines without crashing into a new regulatory scheme, and passengers couldn’t be sure what they could get and where they could get it.

Some forward-thinking Florida legislators have filed bills that would eliminate this risk, by establishing a uniform set of reasonable statewide guidelines. The new rules would protect passengers while giving drivers and the ridesharing companies enough assurances that they would continue to serve the residents and tourists who enjoy their services.

Florida is one of just 12 states that do not have a statewide framework for ridesharing. Passage of this legislation would eliminate the confusing county-by-county patchwork of rules, creating an easier and more effective experience for passengers and drivers alike.

If the wisdom of that approach escapes you, I’ve got a horse and buggy I’d like to sell you.

Ridesharing bills could pave the way for transformational changes

On the same day an Uber- and Lyft-friendly ridesharing bill passed its first committee stop in the Florida House, state Sen. Jeff Brandes was presenting his vision of where he believes the transportation industry is headed.

“We’re in a generational shift from the horse and buggy to the Model-T,” Brandes said Wednesday evening at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee.

The St. Petersburg Republican was the main presenter at a public event focusing on emerging transportation technologies. He’s also sponsoring legislation similar to the House ridesharing bill.

If successful, the measures would create uniform insurance and background check requirements for participating drivers, and prevent local governments from issuing conflicting regulations.

The reforms could be a first-step in a much larger sequence of changes.

“The industry is evolving,” Brandes said. “Auto manufacturers, tech companies and all kinds of groups are working hard to get into this space.”

As with carpooling, ridesharing allows for multiple passengers to share vehicles during their commutes – often at the touch of a smartphone app.

Cutting transportation costs, such as vehicle maintenance and gasoline, and reducing traffic congestion and vehicle emissions are just a few benefits.

The higher the ride-sharing occupancy rate, and the more people are allowed to use the services, the less cars would be needed – or so the logic goes.

“I think if the cost per mile continues to go down, and if insurance is a bundled service, it’s going to be pretty compelling for some people to use shared cars as their second cars,” Brandes told Watchdog.org in an interview.

When considering shared driverless cars and electric ridesharing vehicles, the potential for change is even more dramatic.

Brandes explained: Electric vehicle operators won’t pay gas taxes. Fewer vehicles mean fewer title fees for the state. Local governments could lose revenue from fewer traffic citations. Parking revenues would decrease, as would demand for urban parking garages.

“This has the potential to change cities, the electric grid, the insurance industry and even health care,” Brandes said, referring to the probability of fewer car accidents.

“It’s all of these different things and it’s going to begin happening within the next 10 to 20 years,” he said. “So how do we get our minds around this?”

Large financial institutions are already engaged.

“The market for private automobile ownership is likely headed for disruption,” predicts Morgan Stanley. A video presentation by Adam Jonas, head of global auto research for Morgan Stanley, provided context for Brandes’ remarks.

In part, the vision was described as an impending evolution in mass public transit that doesn’t require massive taxpayer-funded public transportation projects.

“When you know something big is going to happen but you haven’t begun to feel the effects yet, the focus should be on maximizing our options,” Brandes said. “We’re in a fascinating time.”

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers approved last week’s ridesharing bill, 14-1. The measure faces another House committee and floor action before heading to the Senate, where previous attempts at preempting local government regulations have failed.

New Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is expected to be more receptive this year.

House advances bill for statewide ride-sharing regulations

A Florida House committee advanced a bill Wednesday to implement statewide regulations on ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Sponsored by Republicans Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor and Jamie Grant of Tampa, HB 221 addresses issues that have been vexing state lawmakers for the last three Sessions.

If passed, drivers would need to carry insurance coverage worth $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident and $25,000 for property damage when picking up passengers.

Coverage would jump to a minimum of $1 million in coverage in the case of death, bodily injury and property damage while a passenger is in the vehicle.

The issue regarding the level of background checks of ride-sharing drivers has also become a huge matter for various Florida municipalities in the past few years, with representatives for Uber and Lyft adamant that their drivers do not need the same Level II background checks as cabdrivers.

Instead, drivers must have multistate/multijurisdictional criminal background checks, as well as one for the national sex offender database and a complete driving history.

Now that ride-sharing companies have begun working with local transit agencies on paratransit and first mile/last mile rides, the issue of parity remains critical, said Dwight Mattingly, a bus operator from Palm Beach County.

“I’m hoping that it will be recognized that anybody that handles, whether they’re Uber drivers, Lyft drivers or taxi drivers, will be subject to the same training and same knowledge to handle these people that I have,” he said.

The main objections to Uber and Lyft since they began operating in Florida has come from the taxi industry.

“We’re just looking for a level playing field,” said Louie Minardi with the Florida Taxicab Association. His group still has concerns about the bill, both regarding insurance and working with the requirements of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

Although the bill passed 14-1 in the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee (Miami Gardens Democrat Barbara Watson was the lone dissenter), several members said the bill needed to be strengthened moving forward before getting final approval.

Coconut Creek Democrat Kristen Diane Jacobs said that because there are now so many Uber and Lyft drivers picking up fares at Fort Lauderdale’s airport and seaport, Broward County has contemplated building staging lots to handle the excess, and seeking reimbursement. Those local negotiations “will disappear under the current structure,” she said.

Those local negotiations “will disappear under the current structure,” she said.

Jacobs also wants ride-sharing companies to place a logo on their cars as an added layer of safety.

After the successful vote, officials with both Uber and Lyft immediately issued news releases hailing the development.

“We applaud Reps. Sprowls and Grant and the subcommittee for moving forward with this important legislation,” said Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “This is the first step in implementing a uniform statewide approach to ride-sharing that fosters innovation and stimulates Florida’s economy. We look forward to working with the Legislature as it continues to advance rules that prioritize public safety and expand consumer choice for all Floridians.”

“The bipartisan vote today on HB 221 by the Florida House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee is the first step toward ensuring ride-sharing has a permanent place in Florida,” said Javi Correoso, public affairs manager for Uber Florida. “Uber has become an integral part of local transportation systems, and this legislation will help expand opportunities to better connect communities.

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America also applauded Wednesday’s vote.

“Many rideshare drivers operate under their personal auto insurance policy, which will not cover them if they are in an accident while using their vehicle for hire,” said Logan McFaddin, PCI’s regional manager for State Government Relations. “HB 221 brings much-needed clarity and consistency to insurance coverage requirements for TNC drivers in Florida and strikes the right balance between protecting consumers and supporting innovation.”

The bill now needs only to go through the Government Accountability Committee before heading to the House floor.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring the Senate version (SB 340), where similar legislation died in 2016.

Legislature to hear this week bills regulating ridesharing companies

Will 2017 finally be the year the state of Florida implements a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to operate under?

Legislators have failed to produce a bill over the past three regular sessions in Tallahassee, but hope springs eternal that all parties can come together this year.

On Wednesday, members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will discuss a bill sponsored by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls (HB 221). St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate.

The bill has the backing of Uber and Lyft, as well as Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Technology Council and the Tampa Bay Partnership.

A similar bill failed last year, but because of a change in Senate leadership, Brandes is predicting it will have a better chance of passing in the upcoming session. Uber contended that former Senate President Andy Gardiner was the obstacle to the Senate passing the bill that was sponsored by former Rep. Matt Gaetz in the House.

As has been the case at the local level, the taxi industry is intensely against the bill, arguing it gives transportation network companies an advantage. County governments have long regulated taxi cabs, setting their rates, determining how many can be on the road, requiring background checks and demanding services such as the ability to accept credit cards or serve disadvantaged people and neighborhoods.

Uber, Lyft here to stay – time to level the playing field with taxis

I have spent a lot of words arguing that Tampa and Hillsborough County should welcome the ride-share companies Uber and Lyft instead of fighting to preserve a monopoly that has been enjoyed by traditional cab companies.

I still feel that way.

However, if Uber and Lyft are allowed to operate the way they want, taxi companies should have a greater latitude to do the same – lest the free market put them out of business.

That led to an exchange Thursday at the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority that could be the sign of a gathering storm.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported, Yellow Cab President Louis Minardi wants to renegotiate his company’s contract with Tampa International Airport. He argued the contract requiring his company to pay the airport about $35,000 a month for access isn’t fair because drivers for Uber and Lyft don’t pay a thing.

The fee is financed by a surcharge passengers pay for taking a cab out of the airport. Uber and Lyft passengers don’t fork over that dough, so their ride is cheaper.

Minardi has an excellent point. That led to a lot of “er, uh, homina homina” from airport chief Joe Lopano.

He said “we can’t change the payment plan” because the airport has already budgeted for the money. He added that this should be a matter for the Public Transportation Commission.

That would be fine, except the PTC is on life-support legislatively and might not exist much longer. The PTC also is under siege after county attorneys reported that public records have been scrubbed from as many as seven agency cellphones. This may not be the best time to bring the PTC into anything, if you get my drift.

The contract between the airport and Yellow Cab runs until the end of February 2018. That’s basically 13 more months where ride-share drivers have a significant pricing advantage over traditional cab companies.

This is all a bit awkward.

To Lopano’s point about the PTC, taxi companies have enjoyed a cozy relationship for years that agency. It sets rates and other rules for them to follow, which they are happy to do because the PTC pays them back by restricting competition.

Uber and Lyft didn’t play ball, though. They fought against the PTC, resulting in threats and harassment against their companies until they won a temporary contract last November to operate freely until the end of this year.

There is no turning back. They’re going to be around for a long, long time.

Cab companies are the big loser in this, of course. That explains why Minardi was making the case to the airport board for a level playing field. I don’t blame him a bit.

What’s fair for one should be fair for all. What we have now at the airport doesn’t qualify.

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