Frustration about Uber & Lyft intensifies at Hillsborough PTC meeting

in Uncategorized by

Although Uber was recently valued at $40 billion, it’s been a rough week for the ride-sharing behemoth.

A judge in Spain yesterday ordered the company to stop operating there. That ruling came a day after Uber was blacklisted in the Indian capital of Delhi after a driver raped a passenger. And on Sunday, a court in the Netherlands banned the company’s low-cost UberPop service from operating in the country. The service was banned because its drivers do not have the necessary licenses to operate taxis.

In California, the district attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles on Tuesday sued Uber for allegedly misleading consumers and said it is seeking a permanent injunction of the business until it complies with California law. Among other issues, they claim that Uber is misleading customers into believing they screen out drivers who have ever committed criminal offenses.

Uber and fellow ride-sharing company Lyft have worked successfully with other local officials throughout the country, however, to comply with local laws.

But that’s not been the case in Hillsborough County, where issues about proper insurance, background checks and vehicle inspections have not been resolved to the Public Transportation Commission’s satisfaction since Uber and fellow ride-sharing company Lyft began operating in April.

As has been the case at nearly every monthly PTC meeting since then, a group of angry taxi cab and limo car owners and drivers once again complained loudly about Uber and Lyft, and called for the board to issue a cease and desist order to the two companies.

But they didn’t get any satisfaction.

Brook Negusei, president of Cab Plus Inc. in Tampa, recited the recent actions by local governments and judges around the world and asked PTC Chairman Victor Crist why wasn’t the PTC acting in a similar fashion?

“What are we waiting for? I mean, this commission is being the nicest commission on earth,” Negusei said disgustedly. He then mentioned how during the recent election cycle, two members (Victor Crist and Al Higginbotham) were targeted by Uber during the election season. “How long do we go this way, because they’re not going to budge,” he complained.

Crist reacted with frustration, if not outright anger, that unlike in other communities, local and state law enforcement agencies here haven’t intervened to go after those companies for not acting within the rules. PTC agents have cited Uber and Lyft drivers throughout the year, but Crist acknowledged, anything beyond that must be done by law enforcement. He referred to either a local police department, sheriff department, state attorney’s office or the attorney general.

“And to date, after sending out certified letters to all of the above, none of them have come to our assistance,” Crist said. “In other markets like Miami and New York…. local and state law enforcement has backed their regulatory boards, and has provided the statutory enforcement that is the next level that has been needed. In Hillsborough County, that has not happened.”

What has happened is that Uber has challenged some of the citations given out by PTC inspectors for not being permitted to drive in Hillsborough County. Crist told Negusei to be patient because the judicial system runs slowly. But he also took another dig at the company, saying that Uber had been unwilling to negotiate or to work with the PTC. “They’ve offered up no solutions. None.”

The rest of the meeting consisted of more Uber & Lyft bashing.

Yellow Cab owner Louis Minardi blasted the ride-sharing companies for refusing to come to the table to negotiate compromises to work legally in the county. “We’ve worked as hard as we can with them. They’ve given absolutely nothing as a recommendation or anything else to work with this committee, commission, or the industry…..they don’t have any intention to work with us, we have rules and regulations that we all follow, and they’re not following them … it’s getting worse and worse.”

Veteran Tampa cabbie John Bailey complained about how Uber and Lyft have sucked up a considerable amount of business that local cab drivers had to previously fight for. “Anything commissioners do would be great,” he asked.

Meanwhile, litigation continues in a case where the PTC is being sued for maintaining that black car service have a $50 minimum fare attached to it.

Ken Lucci, CEO of Ambassador Limousine and Sedan, said it was time for the PTC to take definitive action against Uber and Lyft. But he also sided with longtime critics of the minimum fare law, saying that it was time to suspend or get rid of it. To provide some context for his reasoning, he cited the fact that a “very, very successful client” of his company doesn’t mind using his service from New Tampa to the airport. But that same customer says he can’t justify spending $50 while commuting in downtown Tampa. Lucci said he would like to offer this customer a discounted rate, but that would be illegal. He said the black car and taxi cab companies need that relief to stay competitive. “I’d like to  be able to offer my existing client a discounted rate, so that they can see what a real insured, licensed, and uniformed fleet is like.”

There was one speaker who spoke in praise of Lyft, but that was Joanne Stein, a spokesperson for the company. She defended her agency’s background check policy and said that Lyft sees itself as a complement to existing services like taxis. “And we’re very open to having continued, collaborative conversations.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.