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Despite court ruling, Hillsborough PTC agents will continue to cite Uber drivers

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Despite a court ruling that rejected their request that could have prevented Uber from operating in Hillsborough County, the Public Transportation Commission agreed today that they could continue to issue citations against Uber (and Lyft) drivers.

“It is our opinion that there is nothing in Judge Huey’s order that prevents the PTC from continuing its enforcement actions against Uber,  should the commission decide to take that action,” PTC attorney Cindy Oster told the board.

“Currently our director has been enforcing our rules and regs across the board without any discrimination to all rides for hire,” said PTC Chairman Victor Crist, agreeing that such citations should continue. “Whether it be a cab, a limo, an Uber, a Lyft, or anything in between. And, unless there’s anyone here who feels otherwise, I believe should continue to do so.”

The PTC board then agreed unanimously to continue to have its inspectors continue to cite Uber or Lyft drivers who they find driving in the county. Both companies continue to operate outside the laws of the PTC, specifically regarding their insurance, background check policies, and vehicle inspections.

“Currently today, it is illegal for Uber or Lyft to be operating in Hillsborough County,” added executive director Kyle Cockream later in the meeting.

In his ruling, Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge Paul Huey called on the PTC to review its rules, and make changes to open the doors for new technology and business models that ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft provide in 2015.

“There is a give and take that needs to take place,” said Crist, acknowledging how the agency currently works to ensure public safety. but needs to adapt to the new world of transportation network companies (TNCs) that are operating throughout the world. As a way of rewarding the cab industry that he said has been playing by the rules, he recommended to the board that it temporarily cut the fees per vehicle in half for taxi and limo drivers.

Crist also called on Cockream to address a number of other issues. Those would be creating a third category for ridesharing companies, to go along with taxis and limos; to create a permitting process for such TNCs, recognizing their business model; to addressing the insurance and background issues; And to allow cab companies to trade in medallions for compensation.

“I’ve got friends on both sides of this issue,” Crist said, addressing the audience. He informed them that he recently learned that his best friend was a driver for Uber. “I told him just don’t tell me when you’re driving,” he laughed.

He then went on to describe a rather unpleasant experience he had in a local cab — presumably the type that he’s championed as being a safer and more convenient experience over the last year and a half than Uber and Lyft.

“They were late. The cab smelled like puke. And the driver had no personality,” he said, before criticizing Uber on safety issues.

“Looking at this thing from two perspectives, both sides are going to have to come to the middle,” he said, calling on Uber and Lyft to provide for adequate insurance, background checks and vehicle inspections.

“You’re doing it in other markets. The fact that you’re refusing to do it here but you’re doing it there is unacceptable,” he said with disdain. He added that the cab and limo industries need to get up to speed, and said that he couldn’t wait for them to work with state lawmakers on legislation. “We can’t wait. We’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do here, under today’s circumstances, and hope that the state follows suit.”

County attorneys said they would appeal Judge Huey’s decision denying the PTC’s request for a preliminary injunction. “We’re obviously disappointed with the court’s ruling,”  said Rob Brazel, chief assistant county attorney. “We feel like there’s some room obviously to take an appeal … that did not appear in Judge Huey’s order which we felt like they should be.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the 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. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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