After more than two and a half years of operating in violation of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Agency, ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft are now legal to operate in the county — for at least another 13 months.
The board voted 4-3 Wednesday to approve two new temporary operating agreements (TOAs) negotiated by outgoing PTC Chairman Victor Crist and officials with the two companies. It comes after at-times agonizing debates on the commission that led to a flood of bad blood between the companies and the PTC, acrimony this most recent vote did not completely change.
Joining Crist in supporting the proposal were Plant City Commissioner Nate Kilton, Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, and County Commissioner Ken Hagan.
Temple Terrace Councilman David Pogolorich, County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, and Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick dissented.
“Today’s agreement on a temporary operating agreement means that riders and drivers have continued access to safe, reliable affordable rides and flexible work opportunities through the Uber platform in Hillsborough County,” said Uber spokesman Colin Tooze.
The new deal mandates that Uber and Lyft drivers undergo a Level I background check “with teeth,” which encompasses a stateside criminal records search along with a search of federal court records, and state and national sex offender databases for seven years.
That’s different than the Level II background checks other PTC commissioners wanted — and which Uber and Lyft said was a deal breaker which would compel them to leave the market if approved.
Higginbotham opposed the new temporary agreement because he said state law requires the PTC to fingerprint drivers.
The agreements will now be folded into previously existing litigation involving both companies with the 2nd District Court of Appeal that will dissolve those lawsuits. Uber and Lyft challenged the PTC’s authority to impose rules, as did West Coast Transportation Services, a limousine company in Tampa that says they want to get into the ridesharing agreement, and also challenge the PTC’s authority.
Immediately after the PTC’s vote effectively legalizing Uber and Lyft, they passed proposed “emergency rules” that in some ways contradict the new temporary agreement, but will allow other ridesharing companies (not named Uber or Lyft) to have the ability to operate in Hillsborough County.
That vote alienated officials with Uber and Lyft.
“You’ve had CEOs in this community boasting of the fact that they have colluded with incumbent interests to write these rules to limit competition,” Tooze said.
“We are disappointed that separate rules adopted by the PTC would stifle modern options like ridesharing, and we will immediately appeal the passage of these regulations,” added Chelsea Harrison, a spokesperson for Lyft.
Both Uber and Lyft say they look forward to working with the Florida Legislature in the upcoming session to enact uniform statewide rules for ridesharing, which still don’t exist.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, Uber and Lyft drivers once again came out to speak in support of the PTC creating a legal framework for the companies to operate in the county, while critics said the temporary agreements with Uber and Lyft were unfair, since they shut out other startup ridesharing companies. “We need industrywide rules and industrywide TOAs, not for two corporate monopolies, at the expense of the traveling public,” said Seth Mills, an attorney representing taxicab and limousines in Tampa.
“What we did today was history,” said an exultant Crist at one point in the meeting, his last after leading the agency for nearly six years. He will be succeeded by Higginbotham.