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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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

Mitch Perry Report for 12.20.16 – Our driverless future?

Among the 2017 priorities that the Hillsborough County Regional Transit Authority’s government liaison, Cesar Hernandez told board members on Monday, one would be to continue to push for anything that can push autonomous vehicle technology forward in the new year.

In case you’re not familiar with the whole driverless car concept, you should know that the Sunshine State, led by St. Petersburg Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes enthusiasm and advocacy, is in the vanguard of states when it comes to this new form of transportation.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature unanimously passed a bill making Florida the only state that legalized fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver behind the wheel.

Meanwhile, Uber says it will continue to tests its 11 self-driving cars on the streets of San Francisco, despite the threat of legal action from the California Attorney General’s office if the company does not “immediately” remove its test vehicles from public roads.

The Attorney General’s letter, sent late Friday, ordered  Uber to apply for the appropriate permits from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles before continuing to test its cars.  Uber says its self-driving cars don’t require a DMV permit because the systems it is using are no different from current advanced driver-assistance systems that help with parking and collision avoidance, the same systems available in some luxury cars today.

As reported by USA Today, in a Friday afternoon media call, Anthony Levandowski, who runs Uber’s autonomous car programs, said the permitting process doesn’t apply to the company and that “we cannot in good conscience” comply with a regulation that the company doesn’t believe applies to it.

Does that sound familiar to anyone in Tampa?

By the way, have you spoken with an Uber or Lyft driver of late? In Tampa, because there are so many drivers flooding the market, the only way folks can make decent money working for either of these companies is to work for both. And driverless cars could make it even harder for “entrepreneurs” to make money.

But while we’re all moving so fast towards this brave new world of technology, what does the public think?

“In the glorious future, we are assured that driverless cars will save lives, reduce accidents, ease congestion, curb energy consumption and lower harmful emissions. These purported benefits contain elements of truth. But the data is nowhere near complete,” writes Jamie Lincoln Kitman in the op-ed section of Monday’s New York Times. “Even stipulating that all the claimed benefits will one day materialize, the near- and midterm picture from a public-interest perspective is not the same favorable one that industry sees. Legitimate areas of question and concern remain.”

Kidman notes that while the new technology will create some jobs, many others will be lost.

“Millions of truck and taxi drivers will be out of work, and owing to the rise of car-sharing and app-based car services, people may buy fewer vehicles, meaning automakers and their suppliers could be forced to shed jobs,” he writes.

It’s not doom and gloom, and maybe autonomous technology is going to be sensational for all of us going forward. But it’s worth your while to think of some of the possibilities that exist with this technology that may not truly denote progress in our world.

By the way, this will be my last column of 2016. I’m heading out to San Francisco myself tomorrow to celebrate Christmas with friends and family. See you in 2017.

In other news…

Stephen Bittel may be closer to becoming the next state party chairman 0f the Florida Democratic Party. Of course, he has to win his election for state committeeman in Miami-Dade County tonight against former state legislator Dwight Bullard, but there is precedence for the Democratic party establishment getting who they want in these cases.

At yesterday’s HART meeting, one board member raised strong objections to coming together with PSTA, Pinellas County’s transit agency, in an interlocal agreement.

And our state supervisors of election are hoping for the state legislature to help them with two key issues in 2017, a request made on Friday by Hillsborough County SOE Craig Latimer. 

Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission likely doomed after local delegation approves bill to kill it

The troubled Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission received a terminal diagnosis Friday after members of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation voted unanimously for a local bill that would eliminate the agency on December 31, 2017.

After that, the County Commission would pick up its regulatory duties.

“The public has lost complete faith in the ability of this agency to regulate credibly, equitably and efficiently,” said bill sponsor James Grant said before the entire delegation vote in support of his bill.

The proposal was similar to a previous bill Grant brought to the local delegation in 2013 that sought to put a stake through the heart of the agency, but with a significant difference.

The local bill approved on Friday gives the county and the PTC a full year to contend with the transition.

“It’s not about moving fast. We want to make sure we avoid any unintended consequences,” Grant said. That was in notable contrast to the 2013 version, which would have killed the agency immediately, making it a bridge too far for other legislators to support, even with noted PTC critics like Dana Young

“I think the plan is to subcontract the regulation out to Uber, isn’t it?” asked Brandon Senator Tom Lee, eliciting the largest round of laughter of the morning.

Although meant for humorous effect, there’s no question that the addition of Uber and Lyft into the county ultimately was the beginning of the end for the PTC, which was already burdened with a toxic reputation well before the emergence of ride-sharing in Hillsborough County.

Among the previous lowlights that had saddled the PTC came in 2010, when Cesar Padilla, then the executive director of the agency, resigned after it was reported that he had been moonlighting as a security guard.

There was also the case of former County Commissioner Kevin White, was busted in 2008 for taking bribes for helping tow company operators to get permits in his role as PTC chair. White ended up serving three years at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.

The PTC caught the attention of lawmakers like Grant and Jeff Brandes after the PTC went after Uber when it introduced its Uber Black limo service during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The PTC shut that effort down quickly.

Those lawmakers became incredibly irritated with the PTC and its (now former) chairman Victor Crist over the past few years, as Uber and Lyft refused to comply with PTC regulations. That led to PTC agents citing those drivers, leading to court actions and more than two years of fighting before an agreement bringing both companies into compliance occurred last month.

At Friday’s meeting, County Commission Chairman Stacy White said, “the county stands prepared to take over regulation of this industry and create a meaningful regulatory framework.”

“I think that those types of things would be able to be implemented by the county with relative ease,” White said. “We do stand prepared to create a lean, regulatory framework.”

The PTC has been funded by fees paid by the taxicab and limousine companies, not directly by taxpayers. Plant City Republican Representative Dan Raulerson asked White if the county would continue to fund their regulatory efforts in the same fashion.

“We certainly do have the ability to charge various permitting fees to offset the costs of the regulatory process,” White said.

“It seems like a good move in broadening out transportation options,” added recently elected Commissioner Pat Kemp.  

“I support it, and I realize that there are 66 other counties in the state of Florida that have figured out how to do this,” said Tea Party activist Sharon Calvert. “Let’s get it done.”

Lyft says its presence in Tampa has led to nearly $12 million in new spending in local economy

With Lyft (along with Uber) now street legal in Tampa after more than two-and-half-years of wrangling with the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission, the San Francisco-based ridesharing company is making some bold claims about its impact on the local economy.

In a report based on surveys conducted with Lyft drivers and passengers in Tampa released Monday, the company says that more than $11.9 million in new spending was generated in the local economy in 2016 because of its presence.

When asked its motivation for requesting a Lyft ride, 78 percent said it was to travel to and from restaurants or entertainment venues, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that these riders don’t want to drink and drive. A full 92 percent say are more likely to avoid driving while intoxicated because they can get a Lyft ride, and 61 percent of passengers say they use Lyft for friends and family who need assistance after drinking.

“People are going out more, staying out longer, and visiting areas of their city that weren’t easily accessible before Lyft,” said Peter Gigante, Lyft’s Head of Policy Research. “This has had a real impact on local businesses and economies, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars spent by residents and visitors. Passengers also save both time and money when they can choose a Lyft ride as opposed to the hassle and expense of driving their personal vehicle.”

Lyft also claims that their presence has led to a 51 percent increase in spending at local businesses.

The company says that it saves Tampa denizens 143,000 hours a year, which translates into $6.8 million in save travel time value, and they say that 25 percent of those rides start in underserved areas.

There is some interesting data about Lyft drivers as well, such as the fact that 48 percent “self-identity with a minority group”; 20 percent are female, 31 percent of drivers are over 50 years old, and nine percent are over 65.

Lyft did not provide any backup data regarding their survey, which they classify as their “2017 Economic Impact Study.”

While Lyft is now officially in legal compliance with local regulations in Hillsborough County, there are still not uniform rules for transportation network companies throughout Florida. Some state legislators have said they will attempt such legislation to regulate them again in the 2017 session, a sentiment they’ve made in previous years, to no success.

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