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Back to the drawing board for Hillsborough County PTC, new ridesharing rules

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It’s back to the drawing board for the often rocky relationship between Hillsborough County and ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.

After more than two years of failing to come to an agreement, the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission is now ambitiously hoping to have a complete set of rules for all private carriers by October.

That’s the plan anyway, after a proposal offered by Commissioner Al Higginbotham was rejected by the two transportation network companies (TNC’s) because it included background checks for drivers that would require fingerprints.

After his two proposals had failed, Higginbotham directed the PTC staff to come up with new rules to be voted on at the Rules & Policy Committee next week, and then bring those back to the full board in September, finalizing the deal by October.

That’s the plan, anyway.

Representatives from both Uber and Lyft told the PTC that significant progress has been made in recent months toward an agreement that would allow them to operate legally in Hillsborough County.

But neither side will budge on a requirement of background checks which include fingerprinting drivers.

“Lyft is in 66 cities with a population that is bigger than Tampa,” said Lyft attorney Steve Anderson. “None require fingerprinting.”

Anderson added that 33 states nationwide have enacted legislation to regulate TNC’s, and “zero require fingerprints.” He said that fingerprinting had its value, but it simply doesn’t work with the TNC model.

Higginbotham then recited a letter he received about how the county’s current regulatory structure for taxicabs, limousines and ridesharing companies has become “old and stale,” saying that it was time for the county to “encourage and reward innovation.”

PTC board member David Pogorilich, a Temple Terrace City Councilman, said it wouldn’t that take that long since the PTC crafted rules a year ago — with help from taxicab companies — that has just been sitting on a shelf, as well as rules proposed last week by upstart ridesharing company DriveSociety.

“We have a path forward for all the TNC’s. We just have to enact it,” Pogorilich said, adding that he wanted staff to provide a list of the number of citations issued against Uber and Lyft drivers.

He said it would show that the new regulations would qualify to be enacted under “emergency rules.”

PTC attorney Cindy Oster kicked off the discussion by saying that her review of the case law indicates that the courts “have not been hesitant to strike down emergency rules.”

The PTC’s Rules and Policy Committee will meet Tuesday.

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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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