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After pointed Broward pull-out, Uber set to take ride-hailing fight to Tallahassee City Hall

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

On the heels of Uber‘s announcement of its planned end to operations in Broward County effective July 31, the San Francisco-based firm is enlisting “ridesharing” fellow travelers to join them Wednesday night as Capital City commissioners debate an ordinance to regulate them in a manner similar to taxi companies.

Just nine days ahead of the scheduled completion of a Broward County “TNC Implementation Plan” to end Uber’s current legal “gray area” status, Uber walked away from the negotiating table, opting to simply leave the county rather than submit to what some called a “hostile” county stance.

The Broward plan would have held ride-hailing companies like Uber to the same insurance and background check requirements traditional cab and livery services must navigate, a policy Uber said was untenable.

Advocates of the commercial practice the company calls ridesharing — whereby largely part-time drivers acting as individual contractors connect with smartphone app users looking for a ride — say imposing a taxi-style regulatory regime on Uber operations misses the point of their business model and the efficiencies it creates.

“Broward County officials implemented one of the most onerous regulatory frameworks for ridesharing in the nation,” said an Uber spokesperson Monday in a strongly worded declaration of intention to exit the Broward market, home to almost a tenth of Floridians.

“Unfortunately, these new rules raise substantial barriers for local entrepreneurs and make it impossible for us to continue providing the standard of service people have come to expect in Broward County.

“We have no choice but to suspend operations on July 31st. We hope the Board of County Commissioners will revisit the issue when they return from break and work with us to bring Uber back to Broward.”

Representatives of the ride-hailing giant accused commissioners of intransigence on key sticking points, including mandatory fingerprinting for all drivers — which they say is redundant given the rigorous background checks drivers must already pass — and a 24-hours-a-day insurance requirement for all vehicles used for ride-hailing, the standard for taxis and traditional limousine services.

County insiders, however, argue Uber’s decision represents “scorched earth” tactics.

The move to cease operations signaled an unwillingness to compromise the company exhibited throughout the process, said an aide to the Commission on the condition of anonymity. The aide said Uber played “hardball” with commissioners in an attempt to wrest a model ordinance for other large counties to follow from the county and that, failing that, they “made an example” of Broward by leaving in order to pressure other municipal officials into acceding to their demands.

The Tallahassee City Commission will take up an amendment to a city ordinance that would include “transportation network companies” like Uber into the city’s vehicle-for-hire administration.

“The intent of the proposed ordinance is to have all vehicles for hire operating on a level playing field, and to provide the public with the knowledge that the companies, drivers, and vehicles are being operated safely and by individuals who can be entrusted with the public’s safety,” reads a public notice on the city website.

Whether that playing field is sensitive enough to Uber’s unique innovations remains to be seen.

The public hearing portion of the meeting is set to begin at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Tallahassee City Hall.

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Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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