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No deal: Negotiations to continue between Hillsborough County PTC and Uber and Lyft

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Negotiations between the Hillsborough County Commission and Uber and Lyft to create a regulatory framework for the two companies to operate legally in the county will continue, but no deal was consummated on Wednesday, as was the hope of Commission Chair Victor Crist.

“We’re happy this is moving forward, obviously, ” said Stephanie Smith, Senior Manager of Florida Public Policy at Uber. “We’re hopeful that they’ll continue to negotiate in good faith and that this doesn’t get tinkered to death.”

After going into closed session for nearly an hour to deal first to contend with the lawsuit filed by Lyft against the PTC, the agency voted in open session to continue to move the negotiations forward. They then remained in open session to vote the same way with Uber. Both ridesharing companies are involved in litigation with the Hillsborough agency.

“Progress continued today in the discussion of a possible settlement agreement with Uber and Lyft,” said PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream after the meeting. “We continue to be optimistic about the prospect of reaching an agreement.”

“Our next steps will be to incorporate the comments from the meeting as we continue to work toward a settlement agreement that is agreeable to all parties involved,” Cockream added.

There were plenty of dramatics before that occurred, however, as PTC Commission Chair Victor Crist survived a vote that called for him to resign from the board for recent comments he made about dissolving the agency.

Terms of what has been a called a Temporary Operating Agreement (TOA) were first made public on Friday night, and reportedly were the subjects of a number of changes hammered out between Crist and the two companies over the past 48 hours.

As has been the case in cities around the country and the world, the county has previously been unable to agree to terms with both companies regarding insurance and background check policies.

The tentative plan (which representatives from Uber said they did not see on paper before the meeting) calls for Uber and Lyft to carry liability coverage of at least $50,000 for bodily injury to one person in one accident; $100,000 for all individuals in any one accident and $25,000 for property damage. That’s lower than that of the taxi companies, which have requirements of $125,000 for body injury, $250,000 for all persons in one accident and $25,000 for each respective category. The policy also says that the ride-sharing companies must provide primary automobile liability insurance of at least $1,000,000 for death, personal injury, and property damage.

Regarding background checks, the agreement falls short of the Level II background checks that Cockream had aspired to. Instead, the agreement calls for the companies on their own or through a third party will conduct “a local and national criminal background check that shall include (a) Multi-State/Multi-Jurisdiction Criminal Records Locator or other similar commercial nationwide database with validation (primary source search), and (b) National Sex Offender Registry database.”

“If it was the gold standard, the federal government would be using it,” remarked Cockream about the proposal agreed to.

“The longer we draw this out, the longer we go without any safety standards in place,” Crist said as the board prepared to go into a special private session to discuss the proposal, first with Lyft. Both Lyft and Uber have ongoing litigation with the PTC, and the new agreement — if agreed to by the companies — would end those lawsuits.

The PTC has charged Uber and Lyft of operating unlawfully since they began doing business in Hillsborough County in April of 2014. It’s led to the citations of hundreds of drivers, with no end in sight.

Crist has been subject to intense criticism in recent weeks by the taxicab and limousine industry, where he was initially accused of cozying up too closely with when Uber and Lyft began operations. Three taxi companies filed a petition in Hillsborough County Court earlier this week to have Crist removed from participating in the rule-making proceedings, and representatives from those groups called on Crist directly Wednesday to resign during the public hearing portion of Wednesday’s meeting.

“Given his repeated political statements … he is not fit to lead this agency further,” proclaimed Seth Mills, an attorney with Mills Paskert Divers P.A.

Some of those sentiments were shared by PTC Board Vice-Chair David Pogorilich, a Temple Terrace Councilman, who said that Crist’s recent comments that he wants to disband or completely destroy the PTC meant “he ought not to be leading the same organization.”

Crist lashed back, saying to the taxi cab company owners, “You want me to resign because I’m not your puppet? That’s absurd.”

However, when the motion for Crist to resign went before the entire board, only Pogorilich voted for his dismissal.

No date has been set between Uber and Lyft and the PTC staff for followup meetings, but that is expected to happen soon.

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.

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