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Uber teams up with 5 Central Florida cities to offer discount fares

A handful of Central Florida cities announced Monday that they will team up with ride-sharing company Uber to offer discounted intercity travel.

Altamonte Springs, Lake Mary, Longwood, Maitland and Sanford created an organization called the “Municipal Mobility Working Group” which will participate in an Uber pilot program testing travel between cities.

“By providing people with an attractive transportation option, Uber is helping to drive a fundamental shift in the way people get around,” said Kasra Moshkani, general manager for Uber in Florida. “We look forward to continuing to work with these Central Florida cities to complement transit options by extending the reach of transit systems and offering residents a reliable, affordable alternative to driving.”

Each municipality had previously worked with Uber on a 2016 pilot program testing travel within their borders, which saw each city provide discount fares to encourage trips.

Uber said that pilot program found residents travel to “live, work and play without regard to jurisdictional lines,” and that there was a need for further pilot programs to test “boundaryless travel.”

The first phase of the pilot saw each city pick up a fifth of the tab for Uber rides ending within their borders and 25 percent of the cost of rides that began or ended at a SunRail station within city limits. In the phase 2 pilot, each city will also pay 20 percent of Uber fares for a trip that begins in another city and ends in theirs.

“The unique addition of this pilot allows Maitland residents to check out the nightlife in downtown Lake Mary; for an Altamonte Springs resident who wants to take an Uber to the Sanford International Airport; for a Longwood resident to shop at the Altamonte Mall,” Uber said in the announcement.

Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz said the pilot program has already taught city officials that “people don’t travel in a box.”

“Residents travel regionally for work, shopping or dining and think of the five cities as one area rather than separate entities. For the MMWG cities, innovation has become the rule rather than the exception and we think taxpayers expect that from government,” he said.


Is Tampa airport expansion ‘betting big’ on old tech over distuptors like ridesharing?

Tampa International Airport is preparing for the future, moving ahead with a multibillion-dollar expansion project while setting new passenger records in 2017.

However, Noah Pransky of WTSP found that TIA appears hesitant to embrace the latest transportation disruptor: ridesharing technology companies Uber and Lyft.

With significant ridership increases, Uber and Lyft have impacted airport revenues from parking and rental cars – two conventional ground transportation options that are a key element in the planned Phase 1 of the airport’s expansion.

“We’ve made this huge bet on rental cars that I don’t know if it’s going to pay off,” state Sen. Jeff Brandes told WTSP. During the 2017 Legislative Session, the St. Petersburg Republican helped jump-start an audit of the airport’s multi phase construction project. “I would love to see them move faster (on emerging technology).”

WTSP 10Investigates reported in July that the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority is setting new fees on Uber, Lyft, and taxicab fares from TIA came after the agency failed to meet projected benchmarks in parking and rental car revenues.

What’s more, the airport waited until just this summer to adjust its long-term master plan to accommodate the tech disruptors, by adding new curbsides at each terminal in downscaling Phase 2 of its expansion, despite Uber entering the Tampa market five years ago, and has been impacting airport revenues for at least two years.

Business management firm Certify estimates ridesharing accounts 63 percent of U.S. business travelers’ ground transportation expenses, a number far outpacing both rental cars (29 percent) and taxicabs (8 percent).

Nowhere is this difficulty in embracing the future more obvious than with airport’s construction project that adds “people movers” two shuttle travelers to a new rental car facility. TIA CEO Joe Lopano hailed the addition as one that will “give our guests access to twice as many rental car choices,” removing as many as 8,000 cars per day from wrote surrounding the airport.

Pransky reports that those 8,000 cars make up only short trips on the airport’s main and back roads – not terminal curbsides themselves – most susceptible to congestion, particularly with increased ridesharing. In addition, those estimates came from a 2011 study, using numbers from peak season, which predated ridesharing in Tampa.

The airport has not yet plan for increased congestion from Uber and Lyft vehicles using curbsides.

“Were we too late? Maybe,” Lopano said when asked about how quickly the airport has responded ridesharing. “But I think we have the right solution.”


Blake Dowling: Disruption and artificial intelligence

Uber, Netflix, Amazon Go, Legal Robot, Watson, Einstein, Starship … all examples of disruption and the artificial intelligence that is changing the legal, medical and business world every day.

Maybe you have heard of some (or all) of them; they all have an interesting story.

Whether it’s a smart grocery store, robot doctor or automated delivery service, these entities — along with many other — bring to the table constant innovation, as well as disruption.

I will focus on two, so I will not bore you with a novel.

No. 1 on the list is Einstein. Do you run staff meetings? Work with campaign volunteers, lobbyists, sales people or agency directors? Regardless of which world you find yourself in, some of those around you may be too grim, too optimistic, or will just tell you what you want to hear.

Each week, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff holds a Monday morning staff meeting with his top execs. After hearing reports, Benioff turns to his advisers and asks them what they think.

This is pretty normal behavior, except that adviser is a robot named Einstein.

For a CEO, typically the way it works is, of course, you have various people, mostly politicians and bureaucrats, in your staff meeting who are telling you what they want to tell you to kind of get you to believe what they want you to believe. Einstein comes without bias. So, because it’s just based on the data, it’s a very exciting next-generation tool” Benioff says (quoted in Business Insider).

Does this mean the days of assistants is gone? Political Advisers? Police? Would you rather have an unbiased fact machine or a human who might be biased, racist, drunk, call in sick, moan and groan, take vacations and embellish. Or an automated 24/7 powerhouse of truth, which sees all as-is?

Let the debate begin.

Moving on to the grocery store.

No long ago, I wrote about the Amazon Go concept store, where the grocery game will soon change again thanks to Simbre, an outfit out of Cali with a product called Tally.

Tally is a supply chain efficiency guru, roaming the aisles, stocking items, confirming prices, yanking out-of-stock items; tasks that a human does now.

Is this a concept you may be thinking? Negative, it is a reality. A small chain in the Midwest called Schnuks Groceries is right now rolling out a six-week demo right now.

Results of this demo could have a profound effect on the entire industry, with cost savings plus a surge in efficiency that will put Schnuks on the worldwide map in a big way.

Publix and Kroger execs will be baffled by the beat down by these innovative upstarts. Or they will claim they came up with the idea. Hopefully, Schnuks doesn’t get snookered.

As Picasso once said: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

That’s it for today, campers. I hope all this talk of disruption and innovation hasn’t spooked you too much. If you happen to be in St. Louis, go to 6600 Clayton Road in Richmond Heights and check out Tally cruising the aisles. I wonder if you can hack Tally?

Sounds like a column for next time; I can see the headline now: “Robot destroys Twinkies and stores reputation.” Clean up on aisle 4, indeed.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com. Dowling is a firm supporter of Showtime broadcasting college football games with comedians Adam Sandler and Katt Williams providing commentary. The end.

UberEATS launches Thursday in Tallahassee

Uber, the online ride-booking company, is expanding its UberEATS on-demand food delivery service to the state’s capital starting Thursday.

J.P. Restrepo, general manager for UberEATS in Florida, said Tallahassee is the fifth city to come online in the state, after Miami, Tampa, Orlando, and Gainesville, another college town. It’s also available in 100 cities around the world.

In Tallahassee, the service goes live at 11 a.m., with about 60 restaurants signed up, he said in a Wednesday interview. The UberEATS app, available for download now, will link to a user’s existing Uber account.

“It’s a very interesting combination of small places and chains that people know and like,” Restrepo told Florida Politics. “This is a convenient way for people to get delivery to their office or their house, to get food when they want it, where they want it.”

Noteworthy local eateries include Madison Social, Centrale, Township, Taco Republik, Tijuana Flats, and 4 Rivers Smokehouse, down to the new and cozy Café 21, a breakfast and lunch spot that has a handful of tables.

Menus and prices will be shown in the app, avoiding to need to toggle between the app and a restaurant’s website.

What Uber is selling is ease and reliability of delivery, with about 1,000 driver-partners now in Tallahassee.

Customers can filter by kinds of food, price, and time of delivery, Restrepo said. It also will provide the same Uber experience by tracking food preparation and delivery. User can also select whether to get their delivery door-to-door or curbside.

And, in a take on Yelp and other restaurant-rating sites, users can grade the food and delivery. Uber also will be able to identify food trends in a given area, what sells and what doesn’t, helping restaurants and customers with orders.

Driver-partners don’t even need a car, Restrepo said: “They can use a bike or a scooter.”

Updated 12 noon from an Uber press release:

“The coverage area … includes Downtown, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Florida State University, Tallahassee Community College, Midtown, and the Market District. In celebration of the launch, Tallahassee UberEATS users can receive $5 off their first UberEATS order when they refer a friend, who will receive $5 off their first two orders … Delivery is available from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m., seven days a week, and there is a $4.99 delivery fee for orders. If the restaurant is shown as open and serving on the UberEATS app during that time, customers will be able to place an order.”

U.S. conservatism expands to final frontier: City hall

For decades, a well-funded conservative group has helped state lawmakers across the U.S. write legislation to rein in unions, expand charter schools and lower taxes.

Now, it’s expanding to the final frontier: normally nonpartisan city halls and county governments, which have become a bastion of liberal resistance to President Donald Trump.

The American Legislative Exchange Council is one of the country’s most prominent conservative groups, and its annual convention in Denver last week drew thousands of state legislators and lobbyists for panels on school choice and marijuana legalization, as well as speeches from conservative luminaries like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and former Senator James DeMint.

But as attendees rubbed shoulders with the right’s elite, a few dozen crowded into a small conference room for the fourth meeting of the American City County Exchange, the conservative group’s new local government wing.

The city council project is the brainchild of Jon Russell, a councilman from the Virginia town of Culpepper, population 18,000. He was dissatisfied that the traditional, nonpartisan municipal groups, like the National League of Cities, seemed to constantly think more government was the answer to problems.

“Now we can communicate with 2,500 elected officials across the country that we know share our values and push back against some of the progressivism that’s gotten into cities,” Russell said.

Though the group is still young, it’s notched some significant accomplishments – most prominently helping distribute model legislation to end the automatic deduction of union dues from paychecks that 12 Kentucky counties implemented in 2014 as a precursor to that state becoming the 28th “right-to-work” state.

The American City County Exchange also distributes model legislation on everything from a taxpayer bill of rights that would require a supermajority to raise property taxes to measures requiring that cities explore all available materials to build sewer pipelines. An official at the city council project, Bruce Hollands, is head of the PVC pipe association.

At the Denver meeting, Hollands gave a presentation to the roughly three-dozen attendees on how cities often rely excessively on iron pipes without enough bidding from manufacturers of other types. Representatives of telephone companies gave presentations on new types of cellular service – and the need for different cellular towers – coming online. And lobbyists from Uber and Airbnb touted the virtue of the sharing economy and state legislation that would prohibit cities from regulating it.

The value of states overruling city councils became something of a theme at the meeting, as liberals have hoped cities will pass measures to fight back against Trump’s administration. With Republicans controlling 32 state legislatures, statehouses have tried to prohibit cities from passing tax hikes, increasing the minimum wage or sheltering people who are in the country illegally.

Conservatives traditionally have argued that government closest to the people should be given the most power, but several local officials were reconsidering.

“It’s a tool to protect individual liberty,” said Ellen Troxclair, the lone conservative on Austin’s city council, who cheered when Texas invalidated her city’s regulations of ride-sharing firms. “But if it’s not being used to protect freedom …”

Bryan Harrison, a township supervisor in Caledonia, Michigan, gave the argument a legal spin. “We are subordinate to the state legislature,” Harrison said, arguing states were the essential building block of both federal and local power and could override in either direction.

Those arguments troubled Dallas City Councilman Lee M. Kleinman, even though he’s objected to many stances his own council has taken.

“It’s my local community making a choice,” said Kleinman, who frequently argues to Texas’ GOP-controlled Legislature that it shouldn’t overrule local governments even when Kleinman agrees with the Legislature.

Still, Kleinman, like others at the conference, reported a rise in emotional, hot-button issues at City Hall, from calls to mandate employers provide 15-minute rest breaks to making Dallas a sanctuary city, flouting conservative state lawmakers who passed a law to end that status. “They want to wear the badge – we’re standing up to this Legislature,” Kleinman said.

American City County Exchange members said they felt increasingly nervous and out-of-place in this environment. In an interview, Russell proposed one way to fight back.

He recalled a prior stint on the City Council of Washougal, Washington, a suburb of Portland, Oregon. Environmentalists had persuaded the council to pass a resolution calling for an end to coal shipments through town. Russell fought back with a proposal stating support for the coal industry.

In the end, the nonpartisan council, unaccustomed to fighting with itself, passed what Russell said was a fairly bland resolution trying to accommodate both sides. The lesson: Conservatives just need to push back.

“Seventy-five percent of council members are very pragmatic,” Russell said. “They just need a strong voice from the right to counter the left. When there’s a controversy at council, it tends to get tabled.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Uber celebrates new Key West service with free Key Lime pie

As regulations for transportation network companies go into effect in Florida, Uber is announcing the launch of Key West service beginning midnight Saturday, July 1.

Currently, the company operates throughout the rest of the Florida Keys.

“I’m thrilled that Uber’s first expansion after the statewide ride-sharing law goes into effect will be in our own backyard,” said Miami Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores. “Improving mobility throughout the Florida Keys is essential to helping strengthen our communities and economy. Uber has become a part of the fabric of Florida and I thank them for the work they do to increase transportation and access.”

“With Uber’s launch in Key West Saturday, Florida Keys residents and visitors will now be able to more easily move throughout our communities,” said Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo). “Just as important, our local businesses will benefit from increased accessibility. In just a few short days no matter where you live or visit in Florida, you’ll have access to ride-sharing and I’m proud Key West will be Uber’s first stop.”

“Uber could not be more thrilled to expand to Key West this coming weekend,” said Kasra Moshkani, general manager of Uber Florida. “We thank the Key West community, local leaders, and businesses for their ongoing support. We look forward to helping make transportation safer and more efficient for all Keys residents and visitors alike.”

In anticipation of the July Fourth holiday weekend, Uber will give away free Key Lime Pie, supplied from Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe, Friday, June 30, to Miami and Key West app users.

How to “Get Your Key Lime Pie” in Miami:

— App users in the participating areas (map below — Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Downtown/Brickell, Kendall and Miami Beach) can open the app Friday, June 30, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

— Tap on the Key lime pie card on the bottom of the screen.

— Request for your free Key Lime Pie.

— If available, you’ll receive an entire authentic Key lime pie delivered directly to your door!

How to “Get Your Key Lime Pie Slice” in Key West:

— Head to the Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe At 200 Elizabeth Street, Key West, Florida 33040, Friday, June 30, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Both Uber riders and drivers can participate. Show the downloaded Uber rider or driver app, and receive a free slice of chocolate-covered Key Lime pie, while supplies last.

New Uber users can sign up with code “FLAKeys” for a free ride up to $20. First-time users only. For more information on Uber Key West, visit t.Uber.com/KeyWestLaunch.

Rick Scott signs death warrant for Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission

Among the bills Governor Rick Scott signed into law on Tuesday is HB 647, which eliminates of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission by December 31 of this year.

The agency, originally created by a special act of the Florida Legislature in the 1970’s and the only one of its kind in the state, has been shrouded in controversy for years. It’s last executive director,  Kyle Cockreamremains under investigation for his handling of public records.

The PTC had been criticized for years by local lawmakers, but previous attempts to dismantle the agency consistently fell short.

That changed however, after extensive reporting about the agency’s handling of ride sharing services Uber and Lyft ultimately compelled the entire Hillsborough County delegation to agree to a local bill sponsored by Tampa Republican House member Jamie Grant that would dismantle the organization.

“The public has lost complete faith in the ability of this agency to regulate credibly, equitably and efficiently,” Grant declared in announcing his legislation.

The beginning of the end for the agency started in 2010, when Cesar Padilla, then the executive director of the agency, resigned after it was reported that he had been moonlighting as a security guard.

There was also the case of former County Commissioner Kevin White, was busted in 2008 for taking bribes for helping tow company operators to get permits in his role as PTC chair. White ended up serving three years at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.

The PTC caught the attention of lawmakers like Grant and Jeff Brandes after the PTC went after Uber when it introduced its Uber Black limo service during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The PTC shut that effort down quickly.

And then came Uber and Lyft into Hillsborough County in the spring of 2014. As those two companies refused to comply with PTC regulations (as they did in other jurisdictions throughout the country), PTC agents began citing those drivers, leading to court actions and more than two years of fighting before an agreement bringing both companies into compliance occurred last month.

Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office are scheduled to provide an update to the Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday on how the transition of the duties of the PTC into other parts of Hillsborough County’s government are going. The county is also expected to sign an interlocal agreement with heath governments of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace on regulating for hire vehicles.

Criminal justice reform remains a top priority for Jeff Brandes

Sen. Jeff Brandes said he plans to continue his push for criminal justice reform, advancing a multi-year process to take a closer look at the state’s criminal justice system.

Brandes, who has made criminal justice reform a top priority, was in Washington, D.C. last week for the Right on Crime annual summit. The conservative-leaning organization has been working on criminal justice issues in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida.

Brandes said the key takeaway from the summit was that “many states are struggling with criminal justice reform at the same time.”

“They’re all realizing that the current trajectory they’re on isn’t working,” said Brandes, who sits on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “I think one of the things is we’re learning from each other’s experiences. Texas started this years ago, and we’re learning from their experience. We know what is palatable and we know what the outcomes are.”

Brandes said Florida can learn from other states, including Texas, about “what works and what doesn’t.”

“We don’t have to go out and reinvent the wheel,” he said. “They’ve been able to have a meaningful impact and still reduce recidivism and overall crime.”

Gov. Rick Scott announced in 2016 the state’s crime rate was at a 45-year low, dropping to 3.1 percent in 2015. However, the state saw an increase in the number of murders, rapes and motor vehicle thefts during that same time period.

But Brandes said while crime is falling, the number of people in prisons remains static. And Brandes said the state needs to look at issues like sentencing, education, life skills and how to deal with addiction and mental health problems.

“What we know is that most people in jail today are going to get out. Are they going to get out as productive members of society or are they going to get out as better criminals,” said Brandes. “What are we doing (to address) education, life skills, addiction. Are we dealing with those appropriately?”

Brandes proposed a bill (SB 458) to create a 28-member task force to conduct a comprehensive review of the state’s criminal justice, courts and correction system. While the bill received unanimous support in early committee meetings, it didn’t get a vote of the full Senate before the end of the 2017 Legislative Session.

The St. Petersburg Republican has said he plans to make criminal justice reform a top priority during his term. He told the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists last year that while it wasn’t something his constituents were clamoring for; it was an issue that needs to be addressed.

Brandes didn’t just focus on criminal justice during his trip to D.C. last week. He also met with Rep. Dennis Ross to talk about flood insurance; as well as Uber and Tesla to talk about bills passed during the 2017 Legislative Session.

Governor signs landmark ride-sharing legislation into law

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Tuesday a bill that creates statewide regulations for ride-booking companies, like Uber and Lyft.

“I’m proud to sign this legislation today to make it easier for ridesharing companies to thrive in Florida and help ensure the safety of our families,” said Scott in a statement. “Florida is one of the most business-friendly states in the nation because of our efforts to reduce burdensome regulations and encourage innovation and job creation across all industries, including transportation.”

The legislation, among other things, requires ride-booking companies, like Uber and Lyft, to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury of death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app, but hasn’t secured a passenger. While with a passenger, drivers would be required to have $1 million in coverage.

“Uber would like to thank Governor Rick Scott for signing House Bill 221 and for his steadfast support of the ridesharing industry. This law now opens the door for more residents and visitors to access innovative transportation options across all of Florida,” said Kasra Moshkani, the South Florida general manager for Uber. “Since Uber first arrived in Florida three years ago, we have worked with local leaders, safety groups and consumer groups to enhance the communities we serve. For Uber Florida, our priority is making safe and reliable rides easy and affordable — whether it’s for a mother needing transportation after a late work shift, or for a senior who needs to get to and from doctor appointments. Today, with Governor Scott’s signature, we see the culmination of hard work and dedication by so many: from Uber driver-partners and riders to our diverse local partners and community leaders.”

Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes in the Senate and Reps. Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant, it also requires companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers. The law pre-empts local ordinances and rules on transportation network companies.

“This legislation will ensure the innovative ridesharing network across Florida continues to thrive,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, in a statement. “Helping Florida businesses grow is critical to our economy, and this bill will also empower workers across the state to work when and where they want to meet the needs of their families.”

The law goes into effect July 1.

“This landmark legislation would have never happened without the Lyft community across the state who stood up for the benefits ridesharing brings to their families, businesses and cities,” said Chelsea Harrison, the senior policy communications manager for Lyft, in a statement. “We look forward to seeing Lyft continue to grow and thrive for years to come in the Sunshine State.”


It’s the end of the road for the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission

Legislation that would effectively kill the controversial Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission (HB 647) passed in the Florida House on Thursday.

The bill, sponsored by Tampa Bay Republican Jamie Grant, was first introduced as a local bill at the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meeting last December.

Although the PTC has reaped a slew of negative news stories over the past three years in its attempts to regulate ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft in Hillsborough County, widespread antipathy to the organization goes back years, if not decades.

Attempts to end the agency have been discussed by Hillsborough County Republicans stretching back to 2010, when then-Senator Ronda Storms threatened to do so. Grant first talked about ending the agency’s life in the summer of 2013.

Among the previous lowlights that had saddled the PTC came in 2010 when Cesar Padilla, then the executive director of the agency, resigned after it was reported that he had been moonlighting as a security guard.

There was also the case of former County Commissioner Kevin White, who was busted in 2008 for taking bribes for helping tow company operators to get permits in his role as PTC chair. White ended up serving three years at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.

The PTC caught the attention of lawmakers like Grant and Jeff Brandes after the PTC went after Uber when it introduced its Uber Black limo service during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The PTC shut that effort down quickly.

Those lawmakers became incredibly irritated with the PTC and its (now former) chairman Victor Crist over the past few years, as Uber and Lyft refused to comply with PTC regulations. That led to PTC agents citing those drivers, leading to court actions and more than two years of fighting before an agreement bringing both companies into compliance occurred last month.

The most recent full-time PTC executive director, Kyle Cockream, resigned at the end of last year.

In February, the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement confirmed that they were conducting an inquiry into missing texts sent from Cockream’s personal phone and seven other PTC phones, going back to last October. Text messages are considered public records, and deliberately deleting them is a misdemeanor crime under state law.

The PTC was created by the state legislature in 1976 to regulate taxis, limousines, vans and basic life-support ambulances in Hillsborough County. No other such entity exists in the state of Florida.

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