Uber Archives - Page 2 of 24 - SaintPetersBlog

Joe Henderson: Uber, Lyft here to stay – time to level the playing field with taxis

I have spent a lot of words arguing that Tampa and Hillsborough County should welcome the ride-share companies Uber and Lyft instead of fighting to preserve a monopoly that has been enjoyed by traditional cab companies.

I still feel that way.

However, if Uber and Lyft are allowed to operate the way they want, taxi companies should have a greater latitude to do the same – lest the free market put them out of business.

That led to an exchange Thursday at the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority that could be the sign of a gathering storm.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported, Yellow Cab President Louis Minardi wants to renegotiate his company’s contract with Tampa International Airport. He argued the contract requiring his company to pay the airport about $35,000 a month for access isn’t fair because drivers for Uber and Lyft don’t pay a thing.

The fee is financed by a surcharge passengers pay for taking a cab out of the airport. Uber and Lyft passengers don’t fork over that dough, so their ride is cheaper.

Minardi has an excellent point. That led to a lot of “er, uh, homina homina” from airport chief Joe Lopano.

He said “we can’t change the payment plan” because the airport has already budgeted for the money. He added that this should be a matter for the Public Transportation Commission.

That would be fine, except the PTC is on life-support legislatively and might not exist much longer. The PTC also is under siege after county attorneys reported that public records have been scrubbed from as many as seven agency cellphones. This may not be the best time to bring the PTC into anything, if you get my drift.

The contract between the airport and Yellow Cab runs until the end of February 2018. That’s basically 13 more months where ride-share drivers have a significant pricing advantage over traditional cab companies.

This is all a bit awkward.

To Lopano’s point about the PTC, taxi companies have enjoyed a cozy relationship for years that agency. It sets rates and other rules for them to follow, which they are happy to do because the PTC pays them back by restricting competition.

Uber and Lyft didn’t play ball, though. They fought against the PTC, resulting in threats and harassment against their companies until they won a temporary contract last November to operate freely until the end of this year.

There is no turning back. They’re going to be around for a long, long time.

Cab companies are the big loser in this, of course. That explains why Minardi was making the case to the airport board for a level playing field. I don’t blame him a bit.

What’s fair for one should be fair for all. What we have now at the airport doesn’t qualify.

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Fla. court says Uber drivers are independent contractors, not employees

A Florida appellate court has ruled that a former Uber driver isn’t entitled to unemployment benefits because he was an independent contractor, not an employee.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami ruled Wednesday for the Department of Economic Opportunity, the state’s jobs agency, against Darrin E. McGillis.

The ruling is another win for the San Francisco-based ridebooking service, which is fighting a multi-state legal battle not to be considered an employer so it doesn’t have to pay certain benefits under state labor laws.

McGillis filed for unemployment after Uber “revoked his access” to its app because of “alleged violations of Uber’s user privacy policy.”

The court’s opinion noted that Uber “does not provide benefits such as medical insurance, vacation pay, or retirement pay.”

It sends all drivers an Internal Revenue Service form known as a “1099,” “used to report payments to independent contractors.”

“Drivers exercise a level of free agency and control over their work different from that of the traditional … employer-employee relationship,” said the opinion by Judges Barbara Lagoa, Vance E. Salter and Thomas Logue.

“… Drivers are permitted to work at their own discretion, and Uber provides no direct supervision,” it says. “Further, Uber does not prohibit drivers from working for its direct competitors.

“… Uber drivers like McGillis decide whether, when, where, with whom, and how to provide rides using Uber’s computer programs,” the opinion adds. “This level of free agency is incompatible with the control to which a traditional employee is subject.”

Uber last year settled lawsuits for millions of dollars in California and Massachusetts that allowed it to keep classifying drivers as contractors.

As CEO Travis Kalanick blogged last April, the company hadn’t “always done a good job working with drivers.”

“For example, we don’t have a policy explaining when and how we bar drivers from using the app, or a process to appeal these decisions,” he wrote.

“At our size that’s not good enough. It’s time to change,” he added, saying Uber would “publish a driver deactivation policy for the first time.”

More recently, the company tweeted that Kalanick would authorize Uber to “compensate drivers impacted by (President Donald Trump’s travel) ban pro bono for next 3 months.”

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Uber ‘pirates up’ for Gasparilla with new rules for no-hassle, safe experience

On Saturday, thousands of pirates (and pirate wannabes) will descend on the shores of Tampa Bay for the annual Gasparilla spectacle.

And as Uber knows, as does anyone who has ever attended the city’s premiere pirate-themed event, neighborhood roads will be just short of impassable.

To help make traveling to and from the event as smooth as possible, Uber is setting some simple ground rules to take some hassle out of the ridesharing experience.

“Due to the extensive road closures and pedestrian traffic in Bayshore and downtown Tampa,” says the Uber blog, “there may be some cases where your driver cannot drop you off at your destination.”

Uber has set a “green zone” of the area most impacted by Gasparilla. Between noon and 9 p.m. Saturday, riders within that area will need to walk a few blocks away from the parade route to request a ride. While in the green zone, they will not be able to ask for a ride.

For Downtown Tampa, riders should walk east toward North Florida Avenue, before requesting a ride. Those going to Harbor Island need to walk east of Harbor Island Boulevard and south of Knights Run Avenue. Only then can they tap “Request.”

In the Hyde Park North neighborhood, head north toward the University of Tampa. After reaching Cleveland Avenue, users can then get an Uber driver. And for Hyde Park Center, head north of Swann Avenue and east of South Boulevard; from there, they can ask for a ride.

And, of course, those celebrating in true pirate fashion – from the middle of the high seas of Hillsborough Bay – must head back to land before requesting a ride. The Uber app will not connect with a driver until the phone’s GPS shows the user is back on land.

Uber suggests that if a Gasparilla crew is more than 4 pirates, the best way to go is to request an uberXL, which use vehicles that accommodate up to 6 people, thereby minimizing the number of rides requested. Also handy is Uber’s fare split tool, so multiple riders can share the cost.

In the confusion of a massive party, it’s possible there will be several Uber drivers in the area. The company reminds riders to make sure they’re getting in the right car by confirming the license plate and car model matches what appears on the Uber app.

With Uber, and a few simple ground rules, everyone can enjoy a safe and happy Gasparilla.

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PSTA to expand Direct Connect program, Uber rides to bus stops

Need a ride to the bus stop? Hail an Uber from anywhere in the county to a PSTA bus stop and PSTA will pick up the tab.

That’s the gist of the Direct Connect program created by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to solve the problem of the so-called first mile/last mile obstacle to the use of public transportation. Agency officials say the public-private partnership is the first in the country to solve that problem.

At issue is the rider’s ability to get to a bus stop in order to catch a bus. Many stops are not within walkable distance from a rider’s home. Under the Direct Connect program, a passenger can call one of PSTA’s business partners — Uber, Lyft, United Taxi, or Wheelchair Transport — to hitch a ride to and from the bus stop.

Details were not available, but the program is likely an expansion of the Direct Connect service the PSTA piloted last February in East Lake and Pinellas Park.

Pinellas Park and East Lake were chosen because local bus routes in those areas were scheduled to be cut because of low ridership.

Under that pilot, someone who lives in those areas could summon Uber, United Taxi or Care Ride for a lift to a bus stop.

In the case of Pinellas Park, the available stops are the transit center at the Shoppes at Park Place, 3801 70th Ave. N, or the Super Wal-Mart, 8001 U.S. 19 N.

In East Lake, the bus stops are at the Shoppes at Boot Ranch, 246 E Lake Road S, or Tarpon Mall, 40932 U.S. Hwy. 19 N.

PSTA will pay half the fare, up to $3 for rides to and from the designated stops in those zones. The service is available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

A second pilot, that extended service to more people was announced last October. Riders could call Uber, Lyft, United Taxi, Care Ride, or Wheelchair Transport for a ride to the nearest designated bus stop. PSTA would pay an average of $1 to use the program.

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Rick Kriseman will seek to deregulate the city’s taxi cabs

The announcement came toward the end of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s state of the city address Saturday: The next ordinance Kriseman plans to introduce is one deregulating the vehicle-for-hire industry.

Kriseman did not provide many details except to say it would include incentives for taxi companies and ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to comply with St. Petersburg’s system.

Let the market decide what’s best, Kriseman said, adding that, if his plan succeeds then St. Petersburg would be a leader in finding a way to resolve the contentious relationship between traditional cabs and ride-sharing companies.

“If it doesn’t work, that’s OK, too,” Kriseman said.

In the past year, St. Petersburg has sought to regulate companies like Uber and Lyft. The city wants the companies to pay the $65 per vehicle tax that cab companies pay. But Uber has resisted, saying that’s unfair because its drivers are not employees and are merely part-timers making a bit of extra money. Uber has suggested paying $5,000 per year.

For the most part, Kriseman’s state of the city address, his third since taking office, was upbeat and gave him a chance to highlight the accomplishments of his administration. Among those, he said, were having the city on a better financial footing, progress on rebuilding the Pier, a 105 percent increase in new business registrations and an unemployment rate that’s lower than the state or national level.

Kriseman also looked to the future, saying the city’s infrastructure needed repair — especially the sewer system. He noted that the city has earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars to revamp the system. Kriseman added that he is also revamping the city’s stormwater plan, which was last done 22 years ago.

“How a coastal city can have a 22-year storm plan is beyond me,” Kriseman said. “We have much work ahead, but we are up to the task.”

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Legislation covering Uber, Lyft filed for 2017

Online car services such as Uber and Lyft got a preliminary win in Florida after favorable legislation was filed Wednesday in the Legislature.

The bills (SB 340 and HB 221), which would apply to ridebooking companies like Uber and Lyft, combine parts of previous measures that have been introduced but not passed over the last few years.

Still, “transportation network companies,” or TNCs, pretty much got what they wanted, including a provision for driver background checks that don’t require fingerprints, which are more expensive for the companies.

Senate sponsor Jeff Brandes, however, says the checks provided for in the bills are still rigorous and comprehensive. He and state Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Pinellas County Republican who filed the House bill, spoke with reporters Wednesday.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who advocates for ridebooking and other “disruptive technologies,” mentioned running potential drivers through a national sex offender database and searching their driving history records.

Importantly, the bills also prohibit local governments from trying to regulate TNCs, another bugaboo of the companies.

Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison called the bills “fair and comprehensive.”

The legislation “establishes common-sense guidelines throughout the state, and allows people in Florida to continue benefitting from Lyft’s affordable, reliable rides,” said Harrison, Lyft’s senior policy communications manager.

“More than two-thirds of states across the country have embraced modern transportation options like Lyft and we are hopeful Florida will soon join them in creating a framework that benefits drivers and passengers,” she added.

Such legislation has been opposed by taxicab and limo interests, and the head of the Florida Taxicab Association called this year’s bills “another attempt by Uber to have legislation written to codify their exact business practice.”

“The goal for policymakers should be what is in the best interest of the public, including drivers, passengers and third parties,” said Roger Chapin, also the executive vice president of Mears Transportation, Central Florida’s largest taxi and hired-car provider.

“A good start,” he added, “would be an appropriate level of insurance for any and all ‘for hire’ drivers that covers the additional risk associated with the more intensive use of the vehicle,” such as “24/7 commercial insurance.”

But the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America came out in support of the bills.

“Many drivers believe their personal auto insurance policy will cover them; this is almost never the case, as the majority of personal auto insurance policies exclude coverage when a vehicle is being used for hire,” association spokeswoman Logan McFaddin said.

“This legislative solution helps to ensure there are safe transportation options that protect drivers, passengers and the public.”

Among other things, the bills require the companies to insure drivers for at least $1 million when they’re giving a ride.

While drivers are on duty but waiting for a ride, they must insure them for death and bodily injury of $50,000 per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident, and $25,000 for property damage.

Chris Hudson, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Florida, a free market advocacy group, also came out in favor of the bills. He said TNCs “offer economic benefits to the economy by stirring market activity through new good paying jobs consistent with the American Dream.”

Lawmakers “need to strip away the red tape that is crushing innovation and opportunity for Floridians to thrive,” he added. “We will hold elected officials accountable that stand against common sense reforms to expand available services to entrepreneurs and consumers.”

Colin Tooze, an Uber representative, called the legislation “sound and consistent with the emerging national consensus” on regulating ridebooking.

“The bills have very robust safety, insurance, and consumer protection standards,” said Tooze, Uber’s public affairs director. “That’s what our drivers and riders are looking for.”

He also said the pre-emption language, reserving TNC regulation to the state, also was important to save drivers and riders from a “patchwork of regulations that’s very confusing.”

“We think people ought to have certainty and uniformity so that wherever in Florida you are, you can count on a good experience,” Tooze said.

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Pam Bondi announces website to spread awareness of human trafficking in Florida

Since beginning her tenure as Attorney General six years ago, Pam Bondi has made the combating of human trafficking in the state one of her signature issues. Appearing at Tampa International Airport on Friday morning, Bondi announced the partnership with the airport to encourage travelers to spot human trafficking and report suspicious activity. They can do so by going to a new website, YouCanStopHT.com.

“Thousands of people walk through our airport every single day,” Bondi said. “Partnering with the airport gives us a unique opportunity to spread awareness about human trafficking to thousands of people every single day.”

Bondi said regular citizens can act as the eyes and ears to observing and reporting such transgressions, citing an Uber driver out of Sacramento last week who grew suspicious after picking up a 16-year-old girl (who he originally suspected was only 12) and contacted local police. The teenager was being sold for sex at a Holiday Inn, the police reported, and her eavesdropping Uber driver had saved her. “That is proof that one person…can make a difference if you know what to look for, because sadly it is all around us,” said Bondi.

“The awareness program will be made available for all of our employees,” said Tampa International Airport Police Chief Paul Sireci.

“We’re trying to save that one person who’s drowning out there,” said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, who said he wanted to deliver a message to the people who might be sexually trafficked right now: “Your captors are lying to you,” he said, adding that his department only wants to help such victims, assuring them that if they come forward they won’t be going to jail. “You’re a victim. And we’re going to treat you like one.”

And Bondi, who joined a lawsuit with other Republican attorneys general in December of 2014 disputing President Obama’s executive order granting additional protections to millions of undocumented immigrants, said that the undocumented who are being enslaved should not worry about their status if they come out of the shadows.

“That is often how your captor will keep you – by saying we will grab you, and we will deport you, and you are not a victim. That will not happen,” she said, insisting, “We will protect you. We will keep you safe. Because you are a victim.”

Dover House Republican Ross Spano has made the issue of combating human trafficking since being elected to the Legislature in 2012. He said at the news conference that while he didn’t want to “cast any aspersions” regarding Monday night’s national college football championship game in Tampa, but he did say that the ad campaign in Tampa’s airport could only be a plus in trying to heighten awareness this weekend on the issue. Bondi said traffickers bring their victims into cities like Tampa like the NCAA championship game or next month in Houston at the Super Bowl. “That’s why we’re here at the airport.” (Some critics dispute that there are an influx of prostitutes who attend events like the Super Bowl, as this Snopes.com site alludes to).

The state of Florida has over 80 investigations of human trafficking at this time, Bondi said, and over 70 of those cases are active.

Bondi was also asked by reporters about reports about joining Donald Trump’s incoming administration. While she downplayed those reports (which you can read about here), she did say that she has talked about the issue of human trafficking with him, and said that he is “committed to fighting human trafficking in our country.”

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Upon second thought, City of St. Pete defers vote to regulate Uber and Lyft

Just as how the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day, officials at St. Petersburg’s City Hall are deferring taking any regulatory action against ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

City Councilmember Darden Rice told Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal that all parties involved “are ever closer to an agreement to present to Council that is fair to the taxi companies and does not encumber rideshare companies with burdensome regulations and fees.”

After Uber objected to a proposal to tax it on a per-vehicle scale, the ridesharing company — in a roundabout way — suggested it might have to make an economic decision about continuing to operate in St. Petersburg.

One member of City Council said this prompted the city to come up with a new proposal that does away with the per-vehicle tax. Unfortunately, this member said, there was enough time before Thursday’s meeting to get the proposal before Council.

“We are continuing to talk with Uber and the taxi companies in advance of any official action being taken,” Mayor Rick Kriseman’s representative Ben Kirby told Irwin. “Mayor Kriseman’s priority is keeping these companies in our market. He wants to see them thrive.”

Uber officials say the company would prefer to come to an agreement with St. Petersburg on a flat fee, such as in other Florida cities like Tallahassee and Gainesville – fees there range between $5,000 and $10,000 to allow ridesharing companies to operate.

Lyft is “optimistic” the company could reach an understanding with the city.

“We’re continuing productive conversations with Council around the vehicle-for-hire ordinance, including discussions about possible fee structures,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison told the Tampa Bay Times in an email.

On Monday, SaintPetersBlog questioned the wisdom of any effort to regulate ridesharing companies: “Really, Mayor Kriseman, this is the issue on which you want to take a stand? Against the extraordinarily popular ridesharing companies which, by the way, just made sure everyone got home safely after the New Year’s Eve festivities?”

And, as Irwin notes, moving forward with local regulations may be shortsighted ahead of this year’s legislative session: “Lawmakers are expected to consider statewide regulations that would most likely pre-empt any local rules.”

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Uber tips for safe New Year’s Eve

Planning on being a responsible little partyer this New Year’s Eve? Uber has some tips for making sure your safe ride home goes as smoothly as possible.

First of all, New Year’s Eve is probably the busiest night of the year for taxi companies and Uber. The busiest times, Uber estimates, are earlier in the evening as people are catching rides to their destination between about 8 and 10 p.m.

Traffic really picks up between 12:30 and about 3 a.m. as partiers who thought ahead and Ubered to their destinations make a move to head home as well as those who decide to ditch their car until the morning.

Uber recommends doing a fare estimate in its app before requesting an Uber. That gives riders a chance to check how much their ride is going to cost if surge pricing is in effect. Catching a ride immediately after midnight also helps ensure a cheap ride.

Uber users can also set an alert in their app to be notified when surge pricing goes down.

Uber also has a fare-splitting option in its app that allows riders sharing a car to all split the fare.

One rather hilarious problem Uber has noticed throughout the past year is customers hopping into strangers’ cars thinking it’s their ride. Don’t do that.

The Uber app displays the make and model of the car that will be picking riders up as well as the license plate number and a photo of the driver. The ride share company urges users to check the license plate before hopping into the car. That will ensure safety and go a long way to avoid a very awkward situation.

This year, Uber is offering incentives to people hosting New Year’s Eve parties. Uber customers can arrange rides in advance for their guests to get to the party. It protects against drunken driving and, for every ride purchased, Uber will donate $10 to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Customers must book under “Uberevents + MADD.”

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As 2016 closes, Hillsborough’s transportation problems still mostly unsolved

Another year of our lives is about to become history, and that means another year where little tangible was accomplished in terms of addressing the transportation needs of the citizenry in Hillsborough County.

But a whole lot of people did get angry with each other over the process, anyway.

At this time a year ago, the biggest concern was: What would come out of the Hillsborough County Sheriff Department’s investigation into Go Hillsborough, the two-years-in-the-making transportation plan that called for a 30-year, half-cent sales tax increase?

“The Sherriff’s Office has completed most of the work in its investigation of the Go Hillsborough transportation plan but the results won’t be made public until mid-January,” the late and lamented Tampa Tribune wrote in December of 2015.

But it would not be released in January. Nor in February.

When it was ultimately released in March, the 1,974 page-report from the Sheriff’s office and State Attorney Mark Ober found no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing in how county staff, commissioner and private consultant Beth Leytham acted in the months leading up to the selection of Leytham’s client, Parsons Brinckerhoff, to the project. But any momentum for what was always a rather large lift had been severely thwarted, thought it didn’t mean it was DOA, at all.  The referendum always required a simple majority of commissioners to vote to put the half-cent plan on the November 2016 ballot.

However, some Tampa liberals – considered to be the base of support for the tax – balked at what they said was a plan with too heavy an emphasis on roads and a lack of transit in the city.

On April 27, after hearing more than 60 people speak during a four-hour hearing, the BOCC rejected the plan on a 4-3 vote. The proposal died after Commission Victor Crist, always considered the swing vote on the seven-member board, said he was going with his “gut feeling” in opposing the measure.

But like Freddie Krueger, Go Hillsborough wasn’t quite dead yet.

Flash forward to six weeks later, when another 67 people came before the BOCC to give their views on a slightly revised measure. In this case, the tax would have gone for 20 years instead of the original 30 year-plan. But the vote tally on the BOCC was still the same. Go Hillsborough was dead. Again.

Several months later, the board ultimately voted to approved dedicating $600 million over the next decade to fix roads, bridges, sidewalks and intersections. But not much for transit, which upset newbie Commissioner Pat Kemp.

There is no talk about a referendum going up anytime soon.

While the county went nowhere on addressing transit, the Florida Department of Transportation’s ambitious plan to add toll lanes to Interstate 275, Interstate 4 and Interstate 75, as well as overhauls to the Howard Frankland Bridge moved forward. Sort of.

Opposition to the $6 billion plan Tampa Bay Express project has come most prominently from the areas that would be directly impacted, in Tampa’s Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights and V.M. Ybor neighborhoods, and it’s been lasting and sustaining for more than a year-and-a-half.

The single biggest public hearing on the project took place on a summer night in June, when the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization held a public hearing on whether the TBX plan should be placed in its Transportation Improvement Plan for the next five years.

The 12-4 vote in favor of the plan came after eight hours of public hearing and 180 people signed up to speak, with the meeting concluding at 2:18 a.m.

Considered the biggest public works project in the history of the Tampa Bay area, the vote showed that while there are some lawmakers who strongly oppose the plan, the majority of the political and business establishment still remained solidly behind it.

In December, FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold said that he was hitting the “reset” button on the project, bringing in new staff to manage the project, “and work more intensively with the local communities.”

According to a Tampa Bay Times investigation, 80 percent of the registered voters living at properties that FDOT aims to raze for TBX are in black and Latino households.

Another ongoing story that began in 2014 and lasted through most of this year was the continuing drama playing out at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

At one point during the acrimonious negotiations regarding the level of severity on background checks for ridesharing drivers, Uber pulled out their “Work with us or we’ll leave” card, which carried some real force after they literally did leave the Austin, Texas market over a similar disagreement with local regulators. And in this seemingly never ending saga, the public has, for better or worse, always been on the side of Uber/Lyft, and against the perceived stuffy bureaucrats not willing to adapt to a “disruptive” new mode of transportation.

At times, it got very ugly – and that was just between PTC Chair Victor Crist and his executive director, Kyle Cockream. Neither man ended up looking great at the end of it all, with Cockream first announcing his resignation, then postponing, then resigning again.

Crist, meanwhile, did a 180 from his previous stance in support of going hard on Uber and Lyft, and seemingly overnight became their ally, much to the consternation of fellow PTC board members David Pogorilich and Frank Reddick.

By the end of the year, the beleaguered PTC was barely standing, after a vote by the Hillsborough legislative delegation may ultimately give the agency just twelve more months to find a graceful way to exit the scene, with presumably the regulatory duties being handled by the BOCC, which is the case virtually everywhere else.

And oh, yes, Uber and Lyft drivers are now legally good to pick up and drop off passengers (not that their illegal stance did much to deter them previously).

And then there was the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project taking residents from Tampa to St. Petersburg and back, a plan spearheaded privately by former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik and publicly by St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, who, hat in hand, was able to procure $350,000 each from the local governments of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Tampa and his own City Council in St. Pete, respectively.

And while there was a lot of fanfare when the rides began, with seemingly every local official being captured on Facebook Live taking a maiden journey, WFLA- Newschannel 8 reported in mid- December that one recent day, only two people had taken the ferry, and a week before, only one passenger was on a trip from Tampa to St. Petersburg.

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