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Kyle Cockream’s appearance before Palm Beach County Commissioners this year wasn’t his first time

(UPDATED with responses from Kyle Cockream).

When Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission Executive Director Kyle Cockream appeared in front of the Palm Beach County Commission on a ridesharing ordinance it was reviewing last April, some state lawmakers and officials with Uber questioned his visit, saying it had the appearance of taking sides in the now two-and-a-half year battle between the taxicab industry and the ridesharing companies in Hillsborough County.

Cockream said at the time he was in West Palm Beach for four days “on personal business” — but emails recently reviewed by SaintPetersBlog reveal he had been communicating with taxicab officials for a full week in advance of that meeting.

Cockream testified in front of the Palm Beach County Commission April 5. He was photographed sitting next to Louis Minardi, the president of Yellow Cab in Tampa. Minardi has hired attorneys to oppose PTC attempts to introduce regulations to legalize ridesharing.

But Cockream denied at the time that he was with Minardi.

“I was not there with Lou,” he said.

However, a review of Cockream’s emails in the week before his appearance in front of the Palm Beach County Commission show he shared exchanges with Minardi, Brock Rosayn, who runs Metro Taxi in Palm Beach County, and Ellyn Bogdanoff, a former state legislator and now a lobbyist with the taxicab industry in Palm Beach County.

SPB also learned it was not the first time Cockream appeared before the Palm Beach County Commission.

He also spoke in front that board July 21, 2015, when he criticized Uber for its reluctance to engage in Level II background checks — which continues to be an issue in Hillsborough County. Minardi and Rosayn spoke immediately after him at that meeting. And while Cockream has said he was on his own personal time when he spoke before the Palm Beach Commissioners in April, it appears his 2015 meeting could have been on PTC time.

On April 11 of this year, a week after his second appearance before the Palm Beach County Commission where he identified himself as executive director of the PTC, Cockream wrote to a county staffer that he needed to make an adjustment on his Kronos account. Kronos is a electronic timekeeping system to monitor employee records.

“I recently noticed on July 21, 2015, I was off and and my Kronos apparently does not reflect that. How do I submit a change form?” he requested to Deborah Mingo in an email entitled, “Kronos Adjustment.”

“This request, made in April, was tied to a review I did of 2015 work time, to ensure that everything was properly documented,” Cockream says. “In that process, I found that one day was incorrectly notated, so I requested that the day be moved from PTC to personal time. I did this via email to ensure transparency.”

After SPB and WFLA-TV reported on Cockream’s appearance in Palm Beach County in April, he suddenly announced he would be resigning from the agency in July, but has subsequently said he would step down at the end of this year. At last month’s PTC meeting, however, he said he would stay on until March 2018.

On Friday, Hillsborough County Commission Chair Victor Crist said PTC attorneys last week went through a batch of emails and discovered a number of troubling issues.

One set of issues was the report in Friday’s Tampa Bay Times that revealed Cockream had been coordinating with local taxicab and limousine firms to conduct sting operations against Uber and Lyft drivers. Another was the visit to Palm Beach County Commissioners.

At the time of that appearance in Palm Beach County, Crist told SPB Cockream “just basically told me that he was down there for a few days with family, visiting friends, got a phone call from one of his colleagues who’s a regulator, asking him his opinion on some things, found out that he was in Fort Lauderdale, and invited him to the meeting, so he went.”

Crist said Friday the release of the emails reveal he had been misinformed by Cockream.

“It was shocking to me, it was embarrassing to me, and it was extremely concerning to me,” he said, adding that he wants to give Cockream a chance to explain what happened and why. He also wants to give PTC attorneys and consultants time to review what is appropriate and what proper recourse the PTC should take.

Crist says he would support a motion to launch an investigation, and says that will probably have to come up at the board’s next meeting scheduled for next month. That’s the same day the PTC board is scheduled to vote on a temporary operating agreement Uber has approved that would allow them continue to operate legally in the county. The board could reject that proposal and vote on a set of rules that include fingerprint-based background checks that Uber and Lyft oppose.

“If one thing has become clear in the past 24 hours, it’s that the PTC has consistently colluded with entrenched special interests at the expense of people who rely on ridesharing,” Uber spokesman Colin Tooze said. “Based on these recent revelations, the PTC owes the public a full and transparent accounting of how it conducts its operations and all conflicts of interest.”

The series of emails released last week shows Cockream had engaged in discussions about the Palm Beach County appearance for a full week. In an email exchange with Carol Vallee of Checker Leasing in St. Pete Beach on April 4, he wrote,”I’m headed to West Palm to speak to commission members today and Tuesday.”

On Friday, April 1, Rosayn forwarded an email to Cockream and Minardi headlined, “Uber info for meeting.”

On Tuesday, April 29, Cockream received an email from Minardi regarding an Associated Press story about Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport stepping up background checks for Uber drivers. That original email had also been sent to Ellyn Bogdanoff, a former state legislator turned lobbyist for the taxicab industry in Palm Beach County.

SaintPetersBlog reported in April a contact log for the 12th floor of the Palm Beach County government building for Monday, April 4, showed Cockream signing in, where he says he met with Commissioner Shelly Vana. The log showed later in the day that Bogdanoff signed in as well, where she said she was meeting with Commissioner Stephen Abrams.

Cockream says he did not meet with Bogdanoff. “She was in one or two of the rooms that I was in. She was speaking with council members. I did not meet her.”

When he came before Palm Beach County Commissioners, two of them – Mayor Mary Lou Berger and Commissioner Hal Valeche – asked why was the man who ran the Hillsborough County PTC doing at their discussion on ridesharing?

“Mr. Cockream, how did you come to be here today at this meeting? Did you just hear about it and decide to drive across the state?” asked Berger. Cockream said he was there to serve as a “resource,” and referred to his previous 29 years in law enforcement before becoming the PTC Chair. “I know about as much as fingerprinting … as anyone in this room.”

Berger also asked if he was to invited by the cab companies to appear before the commission. “More specifically, I was invited to speak by Mr. Rosayn.”

Commissioner Caleche then  questioned why Cockream was weighing on a Palm Beach County ordinance.

“We’re conducting this like a trial, and Mr. Cockream is acting like an expert witness, and we’re relying on his testimony,” he told his board members.“We’re talking about the ordinance, not about what’s going on in Tampa and Hillsborough County, and let’s stick to the ordinance.”

 

Cockream responded via email on Friday night that,”My appearance at a Palm Beach County Commission meeting last spring was to share knowledge about rideshare regulatory issues, and to talk about fingerprint background checks, which are mandated by state law in Hillsborough,” he wrote. “My appearance was not planned far ahead of time. I was copied on several emails a few days before the meeting as part of general industry information-sharing, before I was requested to speak. The comments I made at the meeting were my own.”

 

Bill Galvano backs statewide ride-sharing legislation

Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano will push for ridesharing legislation, saying this week the state needs a “single, unified approach” to the new transportation sector.

In a guest editorial in The Bradenton Herald, Galvano said if Florida wants to continue to attract the next generation of innovators, the state “must solidify, through legislation and strategic partnerships, an ecosystem that supports companies defining their own path.”

The Bradenton Republican said in the past the state has chosen to “actively engage and help bring” innovators’ visions, like Walt Disney World and the Moffit Cancer Center, to fruition. Galvano said the state is now faced with another issue in the ridesharing arena.

“Last year alone, Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing companies provided millions of trips for Florida residents and visitors. It is clear that Floridians enjoy these services and support their growth,” he wrote in the guest editorial. “However, in some Florida communities, small but powerful special interests are fighting innovation, choosing to create a path of obstacles rather than a strategic partnership with the state that fosters growth.”

Galvano pointed to Hillsborough County as an example of a community limiting growth, saying the Public Transportation Commission there will “soon consider increased local regulations that threaten consumer choice.”

“These regulations are not aimed at increasing the safety of our citizens or creating fairness in the industry as many would have you believe; rather, they are designed to stifle innovation and attempt to fit a new and disruptive approach to transportation into an archaic set of regulations and a framework that simply does not fit,” he wrote.

Galvano went on to say it is clear the state should establish “a single, unified approach to welcoming ridesharing and other groundbreaking services so our residents and guests know what they can expect as they travel from one community to another.”

“As majority leader of the Florida Senate, I am determined that our Legislature will soon enact a single, uniform set of reasonable standards for the ridesharing industry, that both protect our citizens and foster growth for the companies involved,” he wrote in his editorial. “No longer will we have a confusing amalgamation of state and local regulations that hurt competition and ultimately hamper the growth of our state economy and advancing technology.”

Lawmakers have tried to push through legislation aimed at regulating Uber and other ride-hailing technologies in recent years, but those efforts have failed.

A proposal passed the House during the 2016 legislative session that would have addressed insurance concerns, but included a provision that blocked local authorities, like the Hillsborough PTC, from regulating the services.

David Jolly announces federal grant for PSTA-Lyft partnership for disabled bus riders

David Jolly
David Jolly

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) will receive a $500,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration for a pilot program to provide “real time” transportation to disabled customers so they can get to work, the doctor, and other necessary places.

“This is a great day for Pinellas County, but an even greater day for the residents of Pinellas County” who will use the service, U.S. Rep. David Jolly said in announcing the award.

Jolly, a Republican who represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District, said the grant was an example of bipartisan collaboration.

Janet LongPinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, a Democrat, agreed, saying, “This is an example of how, with partners, you can do more.”

The grant will pay for the majority of a pilot program that partners the PSTA with Lyft, United Taxi, and Care Ride. The PSTA will provide the additional $125,000 to make up the $625,000 program cost.

Currently, the PSTA has about 12,500 total para-transit passengers who take more than 1,000 rides a day. Under the current system, those passengers — who cannot ride traditional buses — must call PSTA at least 24 hours in advance for an appointment with the DART program. A DART vehicle then comes to their home and takes them to work, the doctor, or other destination.

Under the pilot program, para-transit passengers would not have to give 24 hours’ notice, just calling PSTA when they need a ride. PSTA will call Lyft, United Taxi, or Care Ride depending on the needs of the passenger. That vehicle would immediately come pick up the rider and take them to their destination.

“It will really help these riders,” said Brad Miller, PSTA CEO.

Patti JohnsonPatti Johnson, a Pinellas Park council member who sits on the PSTA board, agreed the new program would help disabled riders. It’s important, Johnson said, to make sure those who are transportation disadvantaged can find ways to get to work, medical appointments and other places when needed.

Miller said the program will likely begin late this year or early next year.

PSTA already partners with Uber, another ridesharing company, in its Direct Connect and TD Late Shift programs.

Direct Connect uses Uber and United Taxi as a link between peoples’ homes in areas underserved by bus routes and bus stops. Under the program, PSTA pays half the fare, up to $3, for a taxi or Uber vehicle to pick someone up and drop them at a designated bus stop (and take them home from the stop).

Brad MillerTD Late Shift is a pilot program funded by a $300,000 grant from the commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (TD). It is aimed at helping low-income, unemployed residents overcome transportation barriers to employment. Riders can request up to 23 free rides per month between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., hours when bus service is unavailable. Rides must be to a place of employment or residence.

Miller said programs such as TD Late Shift, Direct Connect and the new program for disabled riders have given the PSTA a national reputation for being “one of the most innovative transportation systems in the country.”

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Joe Henderson: Hillsborough rideshare decision could rest with ‘problem solver’ Ken Hagan

Ken Hagan has been elected five times to the Hillsborough County Commission. That ought to say something about the way voters feel he takes care of both his and the public’s business.

Headlines tend to find him because he always seems to be involved in something important, but I wouldn’t say he seeks out publicity. Not at all. He tends to fly at treetop level, quietly working to get things done.

And as Peter Schorsch of this great website just noted, Hagan now potentially finds himself as the key vote to moving ahead, finally, with an agreement that could end the standoff between the Public Transportation Commission and ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.

Here’s what I know about Hagan: He is a pragmatist who solves problems. He doesn’t get ruffled. He is sharp, well-informed, and not afraid to swim against the tide.

As a member of the PTC, Hagan now finds himself in the position for which he is well-suited — that of being a voice of reason. The PTC, as you probably know, has tried (and largely failed) to bring Uber and Lyft under the same umbrella as taxi and limo companies, mostly on the issue of background checks and the rates its drivers should charge.

That has ignored a fundamental truth — Uber and Lyft have as much in common with taxi companies as a plow horse has with a Kentucky Derby winner. Sure, you can ride both of them, but that’s where the comparison ends.

Since consumers just like the ride-sharing companies better, Uber and Lyft have leveraged that into a considerable lead in the battle for public opinion approval. People, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, are openly calling for the PTC to be disbanded. Critics call it archaic.

It’s a perfect situation for someone like Hagan to take the lead in reaching a settlement that makes at least most of the people happy.

I should admit I haven’t always agreed with Hagan. He took the lead on offering public subsidies to Bass Pro Shops in exchange for the company putting a store in Brandon. I thought then, and still think now, that it undercut mom-and-pop stores that specialized in outdoor and fishing gear.

After all, if it makes financial sense to open a business in a certain location — and judging by the traffic I regularly see at Bass Pro in Brandon, it certainly did — then why offer public incentives?

I will agree, though, that Hagan honestly saw it as the only way to attract a business he felt was beneficial for the area.

And I also will admit that I am glad to see Hagan involved in stadium talks with the Tampa Bay Rays in Hillsborough. I think his pragmatic approach will be in evidence there, too. If they ever reach a deal, it won’t look anything like the giveaway the county reached 20 years ago with the Bucs to build Raymond James Stadium.

First things first, though. Getting a deal done with Uber and Lyft is important for the county. Having it potentially in Hagan’s hands is not a bad thing.

Will Ken Hagan save ridesharing in Hillsborough?

They say the past is prologue. If that’s true, past votes and actions by Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission can give us a glimpse at how the showdown over ridesharing may unfold.

And it looks like it could all be in the hands of one board member: Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan.

Oct. 13 is the date of the public hearing that could determine the future of ridesharing in Hillsborough County. That’s when the PTC is expected to vote to finalize new regulations for ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft. Among the contentious issues are Level II background checks and Public Vehicle Driver Licenses.

Five votes in favor of the new regulations allowed the plan to advance to this point, with only Hagan and Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco in dissent.

Hagan has shown a preference for wanting to reach a settlement both parties can agree on. He supported opening negotiations to develop a temporary operating agreement between the PTC and ridesharing companies, rather than simply adopting a scheme that one side or the other would end up hating.

With the board seemingly split down the middle on the proposed regulations, Hagan has a real opportunity to listen to the wishes of his constituents and come out a hero on behalf of innovation.

The people of Hillsborough County have spoken out pretty clearly in support of ridesharing. They use it — all the time. Thousands have signed a petition to keep their community from becoming the next Austin, which Uber and Lyft earlier left earlier this year due to similar enforced regulations by a city council that wouldn’t embrace innovation.

This is Hagan’s opportunity to listen to the those in the community who disapprove of competition-limiting regulations. Earlier this month the head of government affairs and policy for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce spoke out against the PTC and the taxicab industry in Hillsborough, declaring that there’s no excuse for the commission “to limit any further economic growth of a region by over-regulating an industry that’s being rightfully challenged by innovation.”

Proponents of the regulations include PTC member and Temple Terrace Councilman David Pogorilich, who has cited safety as the main concern for constituents. However, the thousands of Uber and Lyft supporters reject the claim that the regulations are anything more than a stifling ploy to reduce competition and inhibit innovation.

In just a few months, the Legislature is expected to take a comprehensive look at ridesharing from a statewide perspective. So in the meantime, there’s really no need for the PTC to adopt regulations that will divide the community.

If it’s all in Ken Hagan’s hands, let’s hope he sides with the future — and the public.

HART board member Kathleen Shanahan latest to call for abolishing PTC

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission’s vote last week to approve new rules that could compel ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to leave the area has given new life to those who believe the agency should be abolished.

The latest entrant in that camp is HART board member Kathleen Shanahan, who, in a letter published in Monday’s Tampa Bay Times, invokes the U.S. Constitution in arguing why the PTC should not be imposing any rules on the transportation network companies.

“The rationale behind the interstate commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution is to promote fluid commerce between states for those doing business in multiple states,” Shanahan writes. “For the exact same reason, ridesharing companies doing business in multiple Florida counties should be subject to statewide standards, not inconsistent county-by-county rules that potentially impede regional commerce.”

In a letter calling on the PTC to resist passing the regulations (which include Level II background checks which include fingerprinting drivers) last week, Tampa Republican state Representative Dana Young said that the agency should hold off and wait for the state Legislature to address the issue in the 2017 session. A year ago the PTC essential made that decision – they opted not to pass new rules, and also said they would no longer issue citations to Uber and Lyft drivers – until the Legislature dealt with the issue in the 2016 session.

That never happened, however, as talks broke down in committee with bills sponsored by Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz in the House and Altamonte Springs’ Dave Simmons in the Senate.

Shanahan was named by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to serve as the City of Tampa representative on the HART board in October of 2014. A former chief of staff to both former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, Shanahan has definitely made her presence felt at HART meetings, particularly in making sure that the agency has fostered good relationships with lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington D.C. to secure federal and state money for the transit agency.

Shanahan’s call for the PTC to be abolished echoes similar comments made over the years by Buckhorn, as well as Tampa Bay area state Republicans like Senator Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant.Those two lawmakers have been unsuccessful in recent years in trying to get legislation passed to kill the agency.

“This is a perfect example of government run amok,” Brandes wrote in August of 2015 on his Facebook page after the agency resumed citing Uber and Lyft drivers. “Enough is enough. I’m drafting sweeping legislation to reform the PTC. It’s time our leaders stood up on behalf of our residents, tourists, and businesses to make sure Tampa Bay has the most robust network of transportation options available.”

The PTC is the only agency of its type in Florida. It was created by the state Legislature in 1976 as a Special Act, which means that the Legislature has the power to end it.

Uber celebrates National PARK(ing) Day with mini ‘park’ in downtown Tampa

Who doesn’t love a nice park, even one as small as a parking space?

To honor National PARK(ing) Day, ridesharing service Uber will transform one parking spot in downtown Tampa into a mini park for the public to enjoy.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, Uber will set up a mini “park” – complete with artificial grass, games and Uber signage — located on a single parking spot outside of Chase Bank on the 200 block of East Jackson Street in Tampa.

First celebrated in 2005 in San Francisco, National PARK(ing) Day has become an annual event where artists, activists and citizens all over the country simultaneously “claim” a metered parking spot — paying the metered rate — and transform the space into a temporary park.

Held on the third Friday of September, National PARK(ing) Day seeks to raise awareness of how parking in urban areas are some of the most inefficient uses of space. Uber, which also is based in San Francisco, uses the event as part of its mission to tackle the parking problem by offering transportation alternatives to personal car ownership.

Uber is also encouraging residents across Florida to participate in this campaign by claiming a metered spot (legally) for their own micro park — which can then be used for artistic expression, address a variety of social issues or just a place to chill out.

As Uber and PARK(ing) Day celebrants say: No “park” is too small.

Mitch Perry Report for 9.15.16 — One less #NeverTrump option for president in Florida

#NeverTrump conservatives in Florida have one less option to choose for president in November now.

Evan McMullin, a 40-year-old former CIA official from Utah, has been proposed as a conservative alternative to Trump. He was the nominee of the Independent Party in Florida, but has been removed from the ballot by the Florida Division of Elections because the Independent Party is not a recognized national party by the Federal Elections Commission — a requirement of state law to get on the ballot.

McMullin is only on the ballot in 10 states so far, making his attempt to deny both Trump and Hillary Clinton the opportunity to get 270 electoral votes less likely.

Meanwhile, Libertarian Gary Johnson‘s campaign announced Tuesday he will be the first third-party presidential candidate to appear on the ballot in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., since 1996. An internal McMullin memo reported on by POLITICO argues the Utah native is the much better choice for conservatives.

“With all due respect, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are narrow-gauge candidates of limited national appeal,” the memo reads. “Whether it’s Stein’s warmed-over magical-thinking socialism and weirdness, or Gary Johnson’s astonishingly weak and dangerous positions on foreign affairs and religious liberty, no other third-party or independent candidate has the background, experience, intelligence, and policy strengths Evan McMullin brings to the national debate.”

Then again, if you’re a conservative whose main passion is making sure to deny Clinton the presidency, you ought to be happy about Johnson (and to a lesser extent Stein’s) presence in the race.

Two new battleground state polls shows the “Johnson effect” in action. A CNN poll shows Trump leading Clinton in Ohio 46-41 in Ohio with Johnson taking 8 percent, and Trump winning 47-44 in Florida, with Johnson at 6 percent.

In other news …

There was plenty coming out of yesterday’s Hillsborough County PTC meeting on new rules regulating Uber and Lyft.

The CEO of an aspiring ridesharing company who’d like to enter the Tampa market, said after the meeting that wouldn’t be happening anytime soon.

HD 60 Republican candidate Jackie Toledo blasted the agency after the vote.

Toledo’s Democratic opponent, David Singer, feels likewise, but otherwise says the two don’t see eye-to-eye on the issues whatsoever.

Singer later bashed Toledo for “ducking” a Tampa Tiger Bay debate this Friday.

Before the PTC got into the whole ridesharing thang, they got a piece of Pat Frank’s mind.

The teenage victim in a sexual abuse case blasts Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober.

HD 60 Republican candidate Jackie Toledo slams PTC’s vote on ridesharing companies

Like the many Tampa Bay area GOP state lawmakers she wants to join in Tallahassee this November, Jackie Toledo said Wednesday she is disgusted by the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission’s approval of new regulations that could ultimately lead ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to leave the region.

“The rules passed by the PTC are clear examples of abuse of power and bureaucratic overreach, plain and simple,” the House District 60 Republican candidate said in a statement issued shortly after the vote came down. “They are designed to push ridesharing companies out of Hillsborough County in favor of a corrupted special interest group with deep pockets.”

On Tuesday, Dana Young, current occupant of the HD 60 seat in South Tampa and western Hillsborough County, penned a letter to the PTC co-signed by virtually the entire Tampa Bay area legislative delegation, with the exception of Tampa Democrats Ed Narain and Arthenia Joyner (Narain informs us that he was never asked to sign on to the letter)The missive called the PTC’s proposed new rules — which included a Level II background check for ridesharing drivers that includes fingerprinting — “plainly designed to be an anti-competitive attempt to push ridesharing companies out of Hillsborough County.”

“If this occurs,” Young added, “our constituents will pay the price by losing a safe and reliable transportation option.”

Young, along with Tampa Bay area Republicans Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant, supported Uber’s entrance into the Hillsborough market in the spring of 2014 with enthusiasm, and have been persistent critics of the PTC. However, they’ve not been able to persuade their colleagues to date in Tallahassee to pass a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing companies, leaving it to local governments like the PTC to work it out. Uber and Lyft continue to face similar issues of not being in compliance in Orange and Duval counties, though they were able to clear up their issues over the past year in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

In her statement, Toledo is now calling for the PTC to be “disbanded.”

“For too long, the PTC has stood in the way of innovation and the free market,” she said. “The rules passed today are a clear indication that the PTC is more interested in doing what is best interest of special interest groups than what is in the best interest of those who live, work, and visit the Tampa Bay area. It is a glaring example of why we need leaders in Tallahassee who can stand up for pro-consumer policies and push back against efforts by unelected bureaucrats to thwart the will of the people.”

Toledo is running against Democrat David Singer in the HD 60 race. Late this afternoon he, too, said that he did not approve of the PTC’s actions.

“Innovative technologies like Uber and Lyft provide a much-needed boost to our set of transportation options,” he said.

“We are a large and growing metro area, and we should do everything that we can to encourage inventive, market-driven solutions that help our community,” Singer continued. “We need to position Tampa and Hillsborough County as ahead of the curve on new technology so that we can effectively compete with other growing markets. I’m not in favor of regulations passed by the PTC today that stifle innovation and may cause Uber and Lyft to leave our market.”

Fare wants the same rules as Uber, Lyft before joining Tampa rideshare market

The Tampa based startup ridesharing company DriveSociety has been a leading entity in persuading the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to pass new rules that require Level II background checks objected to by Uber and Lyft.

PTC board members said Wednesday the new rules would allow more ridesharing companies to enter the market, and they were particularly buoyed by the presence of Michael Leto. He’s the CEO of Fare, a company that entered the Austin, Texas market this past spring once Uber left because of newly imposed rules that required the fingerprinting of their drivers. Leto spoke during the public hearing, and discussed how his company would love to come to Tampa.

But after the meeting, Leto said he wouldn’t enter the Tampa Bay area market unless he was assured Uber and Lyft were operating under the same rules as his company would be.”We’re not going to come into a market where we’re going to be fighting with competitors who don’t have to comply with the rules,” he said, adding that Wednesday’s vote ultimately didn’t mean much to him or his company.

Fare is based out of Phoenix but began operating in Austin just weeks after Uber left. Both Uber and Lyft have said that they will do the same and exit Tampa if the PTC compels them to include Level II background checks. Though Uber did leave Austin, they are still operating in New York City and Houston, which both mandate Level II background checks.

Leto said Fare would begin operating in Hillsborough “in a heartbeat” if the two major ridesharing companies agreed to play by the PTC’s rules, which they haven’t since they began operations here in April 2014.

While Fare currently operates in just Austin and Phoenix, Leto said he’s been contacted by officials in 36 different U.S. cities. “We take pride in that we vet our drivers,” he said. “We take pride in the fact that we’re putting a product on the street that we feel a little more comfortable about. I’m the CEO of the company, and I can sleep a little better at night knowing that we took that extra step.”

In addition to Fare, transportation network companies GetMe and Wingz have also attempted to fill the void left by Uber’s departure in Austin.

 

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