Hillsborough PTC gets heavy-handed (and sneaky) with Uber in Tampa

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Uber, the luxury on-demand towncar service, is in the sights of the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission, which as of Friday night will be ticketing Uber drivers picking up passengers in the Tampa area.

Tickets that could be as much as $800 each.

PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream told Richard Mullins of the Tampa Tribune the policy is changing from warnings to fines, a process the PTC began weeks ago with verbal warnings for unregistered drivers.

If necessary, Cockream said he was prepared come down hard on Uber, with citations that could range from $30 up to several hundred dollars.

An Uber driver can get a $500 fine, simply for operating without the required paperwork, a fine that could rise sharply if the PTC feels like it – anywhere up to $800.

San Francisco-based Uber entered the Tampa market recently, recruiting entrepreneur “partners” and putting them through a rigorous company-imposed screening process and background checks.

Users download the Uber smartphone app on their smartphone. Customers use the app to request a ride, while drivers bid to offer the lowest fares, often as much as 30 percent less than taxis. Uber is convenient, since no money changes hands as the app calculates the cost and bills a credit card after the driver drops off a passenger, something next to impossible with a taxi ride.

Although Cockream said investigators have been on the lookout for Uber partners — with the help of lookout taxi drivers afraid of competition — so far, the PTC has not found many. He added it was likely his agents will try harder through deceit, by downloading the apps to request rides, as a way to grab Uber drivers.

As Uber and the taxi/limousine industry battle it out with lobbyists to help make their cases in Tallahassee, but in Tampa, Uber as a powerful ally in Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Mullins writes.

Buckhorn calls the oppressive actions of the PTC a “burdensome hindrance to innovation.” Hillsborough County Commissioners, who oversees the PTC, squabble that Uber is an “unlicensed interloper” that need to follow the same rules as taxi and limo companies, even though Uber has proven rules of conduct that often far surpass those of cab drivers.

The Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association is also ganging up on Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing technologies by launching a public relations campaign called “Who’s Driving You?” to help negatively affect public opinion with sensational news stories of problems with Lyft and Uber.

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.