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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.

Dana Young decries the ‘shrill tone’ coming out of Tallahassee

The clash between Rick Scott and the leaders of the Florida House and Senate have dominated the front pages of several Florida newspapers this week, and Dana Young doesn’t like it one bit.

“There is this angry, shrill tone coming out of Tallahassee, and I truly don’t understand why,” the GOP District 18 state Senator told a crowd of over 50 people at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa on Friday morning.

“I kind of feel that we’re on the same team and we should be working together to get a budget passed,  but this shrill screaming is discouraging,” she continued. “So it could take awhile.”

The biggest public clash has been the different budget proposals unveiled from the governor and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The House plan would eliminate the state’s economic development agency Enterprise Florida and the state’s tourism marketing arm Visit Florida, angering Scott.

The House would also eliminate any public subsidizes for film incentives and sports stadiums. When asked where she came down regarding the issue of giving incentives to recruit businesses to Florida, Young said she saw validity to both arguments, but said she didn’t believe it is necessary to get rid of state agencies.

“It’s an interesting argument,” she said, adding that there was no right answer about whether economic incentives are good or bad. But she did come out strongly in support of Visit Florida, saying their advertising efforts have been the fuel that has led to record tourism numbers in the state the past couple of years.”Why completely do away with an agency that by all appearances is doing a decent job of bringing people here?”

Young represented South Tampa and western Hillsborough County in the Florida House for the past six years before graduating to the Senate representing roughly the same geography last fall. That’s when she defeated Democrat Bob Buesing and independent candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove  in a bruising campaign that led to bitter feelings on all sides.

Third party environmental groups also ganged up on trying to bring Young down, attacking her specifically for her vote in the House on a controversial bill regarding fracking. Young denied the claims that her support for the bill in the 2016 legislative session was a vote of support for fracking, and she’s delighted many of those same groups by introducing a bill (SB 442) that would eliminate fracking in Florida with bipartisan support.

She isn’t ready to say that it will get clear sailing this year, contending that there will be ferocious opposition to the bill, and asked that her constituents have her back when the bill gets debated this spring in Tallahassee.

Young did support Amendment 2, the medical marijuana constitutional amendment that was overwhelmingly supported by the public last fall. However, she’s urging a cautious approach to implementing it, co-sponsoring a bill with Orange Park Republican Rob Bradley (SB 406) that limits the number of marijuana producers to seven, though it could expand to as many as 20 or more medical marijuana producers once the number of patients registered for that treatment reaches 500,000.  A competing bill by St. Petersburg’s Jeff Brandes (SB 614) eliminates the cap on how many marijuana producers there can be in the state and sets up four new types of licenses so companies can be licensed to grow, process, transport or dispense.

Bradley and Young’s proposed legislation would also eliminate the current requirement that doctors treat patients for at least 90 days before being allowed to order marijuana for them. It also would expand to 90 days from 45 days, the amount of marijuana supplies patients can purchase.

Young says she prefers to maintain the concept of vertical integration, which keeps the same company that grows the plant also processes it and dispenses it.

The Senator also discussed her just introduced bill that would allow small craft breweries the opportunity to self-distribute their product to other establishments, saying it demonstrated her support for “the little guy.”

A member in the audience questioned her on why she didn’t embrace that same concept when it came to medical marijuana?

“If we let this genie out of the bottle, there is no putting it back in,” Young responded, acknowledging that there was an inconsistency in her philosophy regarding the two issues.

Like several of her GOP colleagues in the Tampa Bay Area, Young has been a big supporter of ridesharing companies, and a huge critic of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which the local delegation has already voted to eliminate later this year. But Young did take up for the taxicab industry on Friday, saying it is unfair that they have to pay a premium fee to be legally allowed to pick up fares at Tampa International Airport, while Uber and Lyft are doing so without paying anything.

Regarding the upcoming gun debate in the Legislature, Young declined to speak specifically about pending legislation, and instead posited the question as being simply whether more guns or less guns make the public safer. Referring to the fall of 2015 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, she decried the fact that school was a gun-free zone.

“How would you feel if you were that chancellor and you opted not to allow students who were adults with guns, to carry guns on campus when that shooter came in, and they could have killed him,” she said. “But there was nobody there to respond.”

The event was for the “Cafe Con Tampa” lecture series. Co-organizer Del Acosta said the crowd in attendance was the largest in the group’s history.

 

Fla. court says Uber drivers are independent contractors, not employees

A Florida appellate court has ruled that a former Uber driver isn’t entitled to unemployment benefits because he was an independent contractor, not an employee.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami ruled Wednesday for the Department of Economic Opportunity, the state’s jobs agency, against Darrin E. McGillis.

The ruling is another win for the San Francisco-based ridebooking service, which is fighting a multi-state legal battle not to be considered an employer so it doesn’t have to pay certain benefits under state labor laws.

McGillis filed for unemployment after Uber “revoked his access” to its app because of “alleged violations of Uber’s user privacy policy.”

The court’s opinion noted that Uber “does not provide benefits such as medical insurance, vacation pay, or retirement pay.”

It sends all drivers an Internal Revenue Service form known as a “1099,” “used to report payments to independent contractors.”

“Drivers exercise a level of free agency and control over their work different from that of the traditional … employer-employee relationship,” said the opinion by Judges Barbara Lagoa, Vance E. Salter and Thomas Logue.

“… Drivers are permitted to work at their own discretion, and Uber provides no direct supervision,” it says. “Further, Uber does not prohibit drivers from working for its direct competitors.

“… Uber drivers like McGillis decide whether, when, where, with whom, and how to provide rides using Uber’s computer programs,” the opinion adds. “This level of free agency is incompatible with the control to which a traditional employee is subject.”

Uber last year settled lawsuits for millions of dollars in California and Massachusetts that allowed it to keep classifying drivers as contractors.

As CEO Travis Kalanick blogged last April, the company hadn’t “always done a good job working with drivers.”

“For example, we don’t have a policy explaining when and how we bar drivers from using the app, or a process to appeal these decisions,” he wrote.

“At our size that’s not good enough. It’s time to change,” he added, saying Uber would “publish a driver deactivation policy for the first time.”

More recently, the company tweeted that Kalanick would authorize Uber to “compensate drivers impacted by (President Donald Trump’s travel) ban pro bono for next 3 months.”

Uber ‘pirates up’ for Gasparilla with new rules for no-hassle, safe experience

On Saturday, thousands of pirates (and pirate wannabes) will descend on the shores of Tampa Bay for the annual Gasparilla spectacle.

And as Uber knows, as does anyone who has ever attended the city’s premiere pirate-themed event, neighborhood roads will be just short of impassable.

To help make traveling to and from the event as smooth as possible, Uber is setting some simple ground rules to take some hassle out of the ridesharing experience.

“Due to the extensive road closures and pedestrian traffic in Bayshore and downtown Tampa,” says the Uber blog, “there may be some cases where your driver cannot drop you off at your destination.”

Uber has set a “green zone” of the area most impacted by Gasparilla. Between noon and 9 p.m. Saturday, riders within that area will need to walk a few blocks away from the parade route to request a ride. While in the green zone, they will not be able to ask for a ride.

For Downtown Tampa, riders should walk east toward North Florida Avenue, before requesting a ride. Those going to Harbor Island need to walk east of Harbor Island Boulevard and south of Knights Run Avenue. Only then can they tap “Request.”

In the Hyde Park North neighborhood, head north toward the University of Tampa. After reaching Cleveland Avenue, users can then get an Uber driver. And for Hyde Park Center, head north of Swann Avenue and east of South Boulevard; from there, they can ask for a ride.

And, of course, those celebrating in true pirate fashion – from the middle of the high seas of Hillsborough Bay – must head back to land before requesting a ride. The Uber app will not connect with a driver until the phone’s GPS shows the user is back on land.

Uber suggests that if a Gasparilla crew is more than 4 pirates, the best way to go is to request an uberXL, which use vehicles that accommodate up to 6 people, thereby minimizing the number of rides requested. Also handy is Uber’s fare split tool, so multiple riders can share the cost.

In the confusion of a massive party, it’s possible there will be several Uber drivers in the area. The company reminds riders to make sure they’re getting in the right car by confirming the license plate and car model matches what appears on the Uber app.

With Uber, and a few simple ground rules, everyone can enjoy a safe and happy Gasparilla.

Legislation covering Uber, Lyft filed for 2017

Online car services such as Uber and Lyft got a preliminary win in Florida after favorable legislation was filed Wednesday in the Legislature.

The bills (SB 340 and HB 221), which would apply to ridebooking companies like Uber and Lyft, combine parts of previous measures that have been introduced but not passed over the last few years.

Still, “transportation network companies,” or TNCs, pretty much got what they wanted, including a provision for driver background checks that don’t require fingerprints, which are more expensive for the companies.

Senate sponsor Jeff Brandes, however, says the checks provided for in the bills are still rigorous and comprehensive. He and state Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Pinellas County Republican who filed the House bill, spoke with reporters Wednesday.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who advocates for ridebooking and other “disruptive technologies,” mentioned running potential drivers through a national sex offender database and searching their driving history records.

Importantly, the bills also prohibit local governments from trying to regulate TNCs, another bugaboo of the companies.

Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison called the bills “fair and comprehensive.”

The legislation “establishes common-sense guidelines throughout the state, and allows people in Florida to continue benefitting from Lyft’s affordable, reliable rides,” said Harrison, Lyft’s senior policy communications manager.

“More than two-thirds of states across the country have embraced modern transportation options like Lyft and we are hopeful Florida will soon join them in creating a framework that benefits drivers and passengers,” she added.

Such legislation has been opposed by taxicab and limo interests, and the head of the Florida Taxicab Association called this year’s bills “another attempt by Uber to have legislation written to codify their exact business practice.”

“The goal for policymakers should be what is in the best interest of the public, including drivers, passengers and third parties,” said Roger Chapin, also the executive vice president of Mears Transportation, Central Florida’s largest taxi and hired-car provider.

“A good start,” he added, “would be an appropriate level of insurance for any and all ‘for hire’ drivers that covers the additional risk associated with the more intensive use of the vehicle,” such as “24/7 commercial insurance.”

But the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America came out in support of the bills.

“Many drivers believe their personal auto insurance policy will cover them; this is almost never the case, as the majority of personal auto insurance policies exclude coverage when a vehicle is being used for hire,” association spokeswoman Logan McFaddin said.

“This legislative solution helps to ensure there are safe transportation options that protect drivers, passengers and the public.”

Among other things, the bills require the companies to insure drivers for at least $1 million when they’re giving a ride.

While drivers are on duty but waiting for a ride, they must insure them for death and bodily injury of $50,000 per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident, and $25,000 for property damage.

Chris Hudson, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Florida, a free market advocacy group, also came out in favor of the bills. He said TNCs “offer economic benefits to the economy by stirring market activity through new good paying jobs consistent with the American Dream.”

Lawmakers “need to strip away the red tape that is crushing innovation and opportunity for Floridians to thrive,” he added. “We will hold elected officials accountable that stand against common sense reforms to expand available services to entrepreneurs and consumers.”

Colin Tooze, an Uber representative, called the legislation “sound and consistent with the emerging national consensus” on regulating ridebooking.

“The bills have very robust safety, insurance, and consumer protection standards,” said Tooze, Uber’s public affairs director. “That’s what our drivers and riders are looking for.”

He also said the pre-emption language, reserving TNC regulation to the state, also was important to save drivers and riders from a “patchwork of regulations that’s very confusing.”

“We think people ought to have certainty and uniformity so that wherever in Florida you are, you can count on a good experience,” Tooze said.

 

 

Pam Bondi announces website to spread awareness of human trafficking in Florida

Since beginning her tenure as Attorney General six years ago, Pam Bondi has made the combating of human trafficking in the state one of her signature issues. Appearing at Tampa International Airport on Friday morning, Bondi announced the partnership with the airport to encourage travelers to spot human trafficking and report suspicious activity. They can do so by going to a new website, YouCanStopHT.com.

“Thousands of people walk through our airport every single day,” Bondi said. “Partnering with the airport gives us a unique opportunity to spread awareness about human trafficking to thousands of people every single day.”

Bondi said regular citizens can act as the eyes and ears to observing and reporting such transgressions, citing an Uber driver out of Sacramento last week who grew suspicious after picking up a 16-year-old girl (who he originally suspected was only 12) and contacted local police. The teenager was being sold for sex at a Holiday Inn, the police reported, and her eavesdropping Uber driver had saved her. “That is proof that one person…can make a difference if you know what to look for, because sadly it is all around us,” said Bondi.

“The awareness program will be made available for all of our employees,” said Tampa International Airport Police Chief Paul Sireci.

“We’re trying to save that one person who’s drowning out there,” said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, who said he wanted to deliver a message to the people who might be sexually trafficked right now: “Your captors are lying to you,” he said, adding that his department only wants to help such victims, assuring them that if they come forward they won’t be going to jail. “You’re a victim. And we’re going to treat you like one.”

And Bondi, who joined a lawsuit with other Republican attorneys general in December of 2014 disputing President Obama’s executive order granting additional protections to millions of undocumented immigrants, said that the undocumented who are being enslaved should not worry about their status if they come out of the shadows.

“That is often how your captor will keep you – by saying we will grab you, and we will deport you, and you are not a victim. That will not happen,” she said, insisting, “We will protect you. We will keep you safe. Because you are a victim.”

Dover House Republican Ross Spano has made the issue of combating human trafficking since being elected to the Legislature in 2012. He said at the news conference that while he didn’t want to “cast any aspersions” regarding Monday night’s national college football championship game in Tampa, but he did say that the ad campaign in Tampa’s airport could only be a plus in trying to heighten awareness this weekend on the issue. Bondi said traffickers bring their victims into cities like Tampa like the NCAA championship game or next month in Houston at the Super Bowl. “That’s why we’re here at the airport.” (Some critics dispute that there are an influx of prostitutes who attend events like the Super Bowl, as this Snopes.com site alludes to).

The state of Florida has over 80 investigations of human trafficking at this time, Bondi said, and over 70 of those cases are active.

Bondi was also asked by reporters about reports about joining Donald Trump’s incoming administration. While she downplayed those reports (which you can read about here), she did say that she has talked about the issue of human trafficking with him, and said that he is “committed to fighting human trafficking in our country.”

 

 

Upon second thought, City of St. Pete defers vote to regulate Uber and Lyft

Just as how the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day, officials at St. Petersburg’s City Hall are deferring taking any regulatory action against ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

City Councilmember Darden Rice told Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal that all parties involved “are ever closer to an agreement to present to Council that is fair to the taxi companies and does not encumber rideshare companies with burdensome regulations and fees.”

After Uber objected to a proposal to tax it on a per-vehicle scale, the ridesharing company — in a roundabout way — suggested it might have to make an economic decision about continuing to operate in St. Petersburg.

One member of City Council said this prompted the city to come up with a new proposal that does away with the per-vehicle tax. Unfortunately, this member said, there was enough time before Thursday’s meeting to get the proposal before Council.

“We are continuing to talk with Uber and the taxi companies in advance of any official action being taken,” Mayor Rick Kriseman’s representative Ben Kirby told Irwin. “Mayor Kriseman’s priority is keeping these companies in our market. He wants to see them thrive.”

Uber officials say the company would prefer to come to an agreement with St. Petersburg on a flat fee, such as in other Florida cities like Tallahassee and Gainesville – fees there range between $5,000 and $10,000 to allow ridesharing companies to operate.

Lyft is “optimistic” the company could reach an understanding with the city.

“We’re continuing productive conversations with Council around the vehicle-for-hire ordinance, including discussions about possible fee structures,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison told the Tampa Bay Times in an email.

On Monday, SaintPetersBlog questioned the wisdom of any effort to regulate ridesharing companies: “Really, Mayor Kriseman, this is the issue on which you want to take a stand? Against the extraordinarily popular ridesharing companies which, by the way, just made sure everyone got home safely after the New Year’s Eve festivities?”

And, as Irwin notes, moving forward with local regulations may be shortsighted ahead of this year’s legislative session: “Lawmakers are expected to consider statewide regulations that would most likely pre-empt any local rules.”

 

Mitch Perry Report for 12.20.16 – Our driverless future?

Among the 2017 priorities that the Hillsborough County Regional Transit Authority’s government liaison, Cesar Hernandez told board members on Monday, one would be to continue to push for anything that can push autonomous vehicle technology forward in the new year.

In case you’re not familiar with the whole driverless car concept, you should know that the Sunshine State, led by St. Petersburg Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes enthusiasm and advocacy, is in the vanguard of states when it comes to this new form of transportation.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature unanimously passed a bill making Florida the only state that legalized fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver behind the wheel.

Meanwhile, Uber says it will continue to tests its 11 self-driving cars on the streets of San Francisco, despite the threat of legal action from the California Attorney General’s office if the company does not “immediately” remove its test vehicles from public roads.

The Attorney General’s letter, sent late Friday, ordered  Uber to apply for the appropriate permits from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles before continuing to test its cars.  Uber says its self-driving cars don’t require a DMV permit because the systems it is using are no different from current advanced driver-assistance systems that help with parking and collision avoidance, the same systems available in some luxury cars today.

As reported by USA Today, in a Friday afternoon media call, Anthony Levandowski, who runs Uber’s autonomous car programs, said the permitting process doesn’t apply to the company and that “we cannot in good conscience” comply with a regulation that the company doesn’t believe applies to it.

Does that sound familiar to anyone in Tampa?

By the way, have you spoken with an Uber or Lyft driver of late? In Tampa, because there are so many drivers flooding the market, the only way folks can make decent money working for either of these companies is to work for both. And driverless cars could make it even harder for “entrepreneurs” to make money.

But while we’re all moving so fast towards this brave new world of technology, what does the public think?

“In the glorious future, we are assured that driverless cars will save lives, reduce accidents, ease congestion, curb energy consumption and lower harmful emissions. These purported benefits contain elements of truth. But the data is nowhere near complete,” writes Jamie Lincoln Kitman in the op-ed section of Monday’s New York Times. “Even stipulating that all the claimed benefits will one day materialize, the near- and midterm picture from a public-interest perspective is not the same favorable one that industry sees. Legitimate areas of question and concern remain.”

Kidman notes that while the new technology will create some jobs, many others will be lost.

“Millions of truck and taxi drivers will be out of work, and owing to the rise of car-sharing and app-based car services, people may buy fewer vehicles, meaning automakers and their suppliers could be forced to shed jobs,” he writes.

It’s not doom and gloom, and maybe autonomous technology is going to be sensational for all of us going forward. But it’s worth your while to think of some of the possibilities that exist with this technology that may not truly denote progress in our world.

By the way, this will be my last column of 2016. I’m heading out to San Francisco myself tomorrow to celebrate Christmas with friends and family. See you in 2017.

 

 

In other news…

Stephen Bittel may be closer to becoming the next state party chairman 0f the Florida Democratic Party. Of course, he has to win his election for state committeeman in Miami-Dade County tonight against former state legislator Dwight Bullard, but there is precedence for the Democratic party establishment getting who they want in these cases.

At yesterday’s HART meeting, one board member raised strong objections to coming together with PSTA, Pinellas County’s transit agency, in an interlocal agreement.

And our state supervisors of election are hoping for the state legislature to help them with two key issues in 2017, a request made on Friday by Hillsborough County SOE Craig Latimer. 

 

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