Hillsborough PTC should focus on “productive regulations” for Uber, says Rep. Jamie Grant

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State Sen. Jamie Grant is not a fan of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, says Creative Loafing Tampa’s Mitch Perry.

Grant joined state Sen. Jeff Brandes and Mayor Bob Buckhorn in feeling the PTC is more trouble than it is worth, even before the board’s dust up with digital on-demand towncar service Uber as it tries to enter the Tampa market.

In the last legislative session, Jamie Grant and Brandes unsuccessfully promoted bills to allow Uber to service Tampa, Miami and Orlando, by changing “outdated regulations.”

Legislative failures aside, the San Francisco-based firm (as well as competitor service Lyft) began operating in Tampa, despite PTC regulations mandating a $50 minimum fare for towncar services.

PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream called on both the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office last week to step in, by citing Uber and Lyft drivers found operating in the city illegally. Neither agency agreed to do it yet, Perry notes.

“I wish that the PTC months ago would have been focused on more productive regulations that would help cultivate an innovative community here in Tampa,” Jamie Grant said to CL in an interview Monday, “than worrying about the ability to crack down on companies that they should have been embracing a year ago.”

Grant insisted  that neither he nor Brandes ever claimed Uber should operate under rules that are different from any other company.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “I think they have to be a little bit more assertive because they’re maybe not as well received by the industry that’s being regulated or protected.”

Resistance by the taxicab industry to Uber’s rise has been vicious, with cab drivers worldwide mounting protests in major cities last week. Their claim is that Uber has questionable policies on insurance, regulation and licensing, and are disruptive and potentially dangerous.

However, protests may be having the opposite effect.

In London, Uber has experienced an 850 percent increase in the user base since the protests, say company officials.

Jamie Grant is banking on his reputation as a pro-innovation and pro-business Republican, who supports the free market and not someone pro “big business, and not just pro-established business.”

“We ought to be supporting innovators who are trying to come up with more innovative ways,” Grant told Perry, pointing out Uber’s recent $18 billion valuation.

“When Jeff (Brandes) and I filed our legislation, it was staggering at the time at $3.5 billion,” he said. “So just from the time we filed the initial bill to today, the company has increased roughly six times in value by people who are putting money behind it.

“The only reason that value continues to increase,” the Tampa Republican added, “is that consumers all over the world continue to vote with their pocketbook and say ‘we want this, this is the better service,’ or ‘this is the way that I’d like to get transportation.”

“I don’t think it’s government’s role to do anything beyond preserve the public safety,” he concluded.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.