Uber agrees to proposed new rules — but will Hillsborough’s PTC follow suit?


An official with Uber said Thursday the San Francisco-based ridesharing company has come to an agreement regarding background checks and other new rules proposed by outgoing Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission Chair Victor Crist to have them finally operate legally in the county.

Whether they will be approved by the rest of the PTC remains uncertain at this point. The board will vote on the new rules on Oct. 13.

The announcement was made at a press conference held at the County Center in Tampa, with Uber’s Stephanie Smith joining Crist in expressing her company’s agreement with the new proposal. Officials with Lyft were not present. Crist said attorneys with that transportation network company were still going over the fine details of the agreement, but said he believed they would announce their support within the next 24 hours.

“We have been operating for almost three years in Hillsborough County without a regulatory framework that recognizes the nature of ridesharing options like Uber now operates,” said Smith, senior policy manager at Uber. “We believe this agreement represents the most responsible and clearest path forward, and we look forward to continuing the conversations over the next two weeks.”

The proposed new rules are stronger than current regulations regarding background checks — but they are not Level II, meaning no fingerprinting of ridesharing drivers. Both companies have said they would leave town if they were ordered to comply with that regulation, as they did in Austin, Texas earlier this year.

The PTC voted earlier this month to approve new rules that required Level II background checks. The newly proposed rules are being called Level I “plus 6,” which would request all criminal records throughout the U.S. on where the driver has lived within the last seven years. That would include federal court records, state and national sex offender database searchs, the FBI’s most-wanted list, Interpol’s most-wanted list, the DEA’s most-wanted list, and OFAC’s (Office of Foreign Asset Control) most-wanted list.

Crist said after attempting for more than two-and-a-half years to find a regulatory framework that could stick with ridesharing companies, he learned through PTC attorneys that the agency could propose new rules as a part of a court settlement.

Both Uber and Lyft currently have asked the 2nd District Court of Appeal to rule that the agency regulating for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough has no jurisdiction over ridesharing. Crist said that if done as a court settlement, there would be a contract in place, and if the companies don’t follow them they would be in contempt of court.

The proposed agreement is for 15 months. It calls for Uber to pay a $250,000 annual fee to operate in the county, and Lyft would pay $125,000. Why the difference? Because there are twice as many Uber vehicles operating in the county than there are Lyft cars. Violators will incur a penalty fee of $2,500, and a second-time incident will have a fee of $5,000.

Once a vehicle becomes registered with Uber, there will be a 21-day grace period before PTC license inspectors can check out those cars. There will be a 42-day grace period for existing vehicles currently registered with the PTC.

“We agree that the vehicle-for-hire industry is evolving and that the ridesharing industry is here to stay,” said Louie Minardi, president of Yellow Cab in Tampa. “We also believe that a level playing field helps to ensure both fair competition on equal terms and also promotes choices when it comes to public transportation.  Although we have not had an opportunity to review the proposed agreement between Uber and Commissioner Crist, in the spirit of cooperation and fairness, we are amenable to considering the same or similar temporary rules and regulations for ALL Transportation Network Companies and the taxi industry.”

Minardi also said the taxicab industry “still believes strongly that 1) Level II driver background checks (which include records in other states and fingerprint scans), 2) accessible commercial umbrella insurance from carriers vetted by the State of Florida, 3) vehicle inspections and 4) compliance with state and federal Americans with Disabilities Act provisions should be the minimum standard.”

Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco was the only member of the PTC besides Crist at the press conference. He said with light-rail still years away from happening (if ever) in the county, the agreement is good for local transportation for Hillsborough County.

“Coming to this agreement is good. It shows that we are embracing innovation, that we embrace technology,”  he said, adding that too much government regulation stifles progress.

When asked if he believes that the PTC will approve his proposal, Crist said he believes there are three certain yes votes and three certain no votes, with Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan being the swing vote. Hagan did not return a call for comment on Thursday.

Mitch Perry

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


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