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Hillsborough PTC discusses Uber & Lyft regulations, but again fails to come to a resolution

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by
The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission held a two-and-a-half-hour public hearing on Wednesday on proposed regulations that would put ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft into compliance with the agency’s rules. But at the end of the morning, they opted to punt on the issue once again, mandating that a subcommittee come back with recommendations next month.
Ever since Uber and Lyft began providing service in Hillsborough more than a year ago, they’ve become enormously popular, offering an alternative to the taxi cabs that had a monopoly on providing direct transportation. That popularity has been duplicated worldwide, though there have been attendant controversies surrounding these transportation network companies (TNC’s). In Hillsborough County, drivers for both companies have been cited hundreds of times for not being authorized to operate within the county.
At the PTC’s public hearing this morning, Lyft attorney Steve Anderson questioned the agency’s jurisdiction. “You’ve drawn your line in the sand today,” he said. “Until a court of law tells me that my client is violating a law, we’re not violating a law.”
Anderson went on to argue that the PTC wants to create old rules that were created to regulate taxi companies and limo services that don’t fit the new model created by the two companies. The PTC filed for a court injunction last month to stop Uber from operating; Anderson said that ultimately is where Lyft will end up having its issues resolved as well.
The PTC, led by Chairman Victor Crist and Executive Director Kyle Cockream, has expressed its frustrations repeatedly over the past year for the reluctance of representatives from the ride-sharing companies to sit down and discuss with them a way to find some common ground. The PTC was created by a special act of the Florida Legislature decades ago, and is the only agency of its kind in the state.
The proposed new rules would force Uber and Lyft drivers to apply for a certificate to operate, undergo a fingerprint check, follow fare rates approved by the government, and be covered by commercial insurance rather than their private policy.
Ana Mahoney, Uber’s general manager in Tampa, argued that those rules would deny local residents and visitors access to safe and affordable transportation that Uber has been providing over the past year.
Seth Mills, an attorney representing cab companies in Tampa, argued that the proposed rules were simply about fairness and having everybody performing on a level playing field.  He blasted Uber for not participating in previous workshops that the PTC has conducted on the issue over the past year, and said that they’ve essentially been outlaws. “Whatever they say they’re doing, it’s not working,” he charged.
Although Crist attempted to be objective during the course of the meeting, his feelings leaked out throughout the course of the more than three-hour meeting. After hearing from several Uber/Lyft enthusiasts who didn’t have all their facts in order, he lashed out at them, saying they were sworn to testify under oath and could be busted for perjury if they didn’t watch out.
“Knowing that you’re giving misinformation, you are committing perjury,” he said, startling some audience members, several of whom wore Lyft or Uber shirts. “So, I just corrected the man who spoke before this gentleman, because half of what he said was wrong. Whether he knew he was repeating something that was incorrect or not is to be determined, but it was wrong. So if you’re going to get up at the podium and state facts, make sure your facts are clear and accurate, because you will be committing perjury.”
Later on in the meeting,  Crist gave out a hypothetical anecdote to an Uber driver who was extolling the company’s virtues. Crist said that he wouldn’t like his daughter calling for a ride at 2 in the morning and have her face, phone number and email address sent to an unknown driver.
The driver then corrected Crist, telling him that technology blocked phone numbers from showing up on drivers’ phones, that they didn’t ask for email addresses, and that photos of customers are not required to access a car.
PTC board member Ken Hagan said at the end of the meeting that he wants the issue resolved soon, saying he’s grown weary of discussing the same issue every month. He said that he was concerned that the ride-sharing companies previously had shown little appetite for participating in previous workshops, but said he was encouraged by the attitudes expressed by those companies today. “I don’t know if the solution is in legislative action, or local rule changes, but I want a resolution on this so the TNCs can operate.”
Ultimately, the PTC voted unanimously to have a subcommittee “digest” all of the information presented over the hearing, and for them to come back before the full board.
The Florida Legislature attempted to pass legislation this spring to create new insurance requirements for Uber and Lyft, but failed to come to an agreement before the session came to an early ending last month. Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes said last week that there was a possibility that legislation could be revived during the special legislative session that will take place next month.

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 [email protected]

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