A lot must have happened over the holiday break in the city of St. Petersburg.
A path forward for the design of the new Pier must have been discovered.
A solution to the Rays stadium saga must have found.
The city’s decrepit sewer system must be fixed. Midtown must be undergoing an economic progress.
All of this must have happened the past two weeks because Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council are acting as if they have nothing better to do than to create a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.
As reported by Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times, the Council is poised to vote this Thursday on a proposal that splits the baby between ridesharing companies and taxi outfits.
“The ridesharing companies have objected to paying the city’s $65-per-vehicle business tax, which taxi cab companies have done for years.
“Instead, Uber, the dominant firm in the rideshare industry, wants to pay a $5,000 annual fee for all its drivers. Kriseman hasn’t budged on the tax.”
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?
The taxi cab companies (which if they had been providing affordable, reliable transportation would never have been challenged by Uber and Lyft) are insisting that Uber pay the per-vehicle tax even though ridesharing operators are a) independent contractors and b) 70 percent of whom work less than ten hours a week (they’re getting their side hustle on!).
Unfortunately, the horse-and-buggy crowd at City Hall is poised to sign off on this proposal.
Put aside for a moment the debate about whether the ridesharing companies should be taxed in bulk or by the head. In the long run, Uber and Lyft have and will win this legal argument.
My point here is why is Kriseman and the Council inviting this headache? Who’s clamoring for this non-problem to be solved?
If it’s a few upset taxi cab owners and operators, to be honest, they would be easy to ignore. Yet, by insisting on this per-vehicle tax, bustling St. Pete is in danger of seeing Uber drive away.
“We’ll react to (the) decision if and when it happens,” warned Cesar Fernandez, who was Kriseman’s campaign manager when he was elected Mayor in 2013, but is clearly not interested in returning to that position in 2017.
This past weekend, the Tampa Bay Times editorial page asked an intriguing question: “St. Petersburg is on a roll,” the Times ed board writes. “Is that because of City Hall or in spite of it?” For the last five or six years — from the middle of Bill Foster’s tenure until now — I haven’t questioned whether St. Pete was booming in spite of its elected leaders; I believe it’s a fact (although the City Council deserves credit for its marked improvement).
How Kriseman, Council, and the city attorneys are handling how to regulate ridesharing companies is a perfect example of what the Times is asking about. There was no problem here. And the solution, by Kriseman’s chief of staff’s own admission, would be difficult to enforce.
Yet, on Thursday, City Council will likely vote to monkey up the entire situation.
City Hall must not have better things to do.