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Hillsborough PTC head emphasizes he doesn’t want Uber to leave Tampa

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission executive director Kyle Cockream wants to emphasize to the public that his agency has never wanted to boot Uber from operating in the country. He just wants them to abide by a few of the agency’s rules, which the popular ridesharing company has indicated it’s not interested in.

On Friday, a Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge denied the PTC’s request for a preliminary injunction that could have possibly taken Uber drivers off of local roads.

“Interestingly, the PTC stated that it wants Uber here,” Circuit Judge Paul Huey wrote in his opinion. “Why would the PTC want Uber to stay if as a general proposition it thought the Uber model was unsafe. This is contrary to the typical injunction case wherein the plaintiff wants the defendant shot down and/or kicked out of Dodge.”

“This ruling is a win for the thousands of local entrepreneurs who rely on Uber to help support their families and for the people throughout the Tampa Bay area who depend on safe, reliable transportation options,” said Matthew Gore, general manager for Uber in Florida.

But the PTC’s Cockream says its only concern is that Uber comply with its current safety standards.

Specifically, the issue of the quality of background checks is where the PTC has drawn a line. Cockream says that the PTC’s Level 2 background checks are the gold standard, and better than Uber’s background policies. Level 2 is a fingerprint-based check on the state and federal level.

“I would only pose that you ask your readers to employ common sense on that issue that if their (Uber’s) Internet background checks were as good then the U.S. government would be using those for important positions around the world,” Cockream says. “But they don’t.”

Judge Huey also wrote in his opinion that “there is no credible proof that Uber drivers are less trustworthy or safe than other for-hire drivers.”

Not yet, Cockream says. Citing an incident between an Uber driver and passenger in Clearwater in late June, he believes it’s just a matter of time, however … “I will tell you this: In the 15 months that I’ve been in this job, I’ve seen more incidents occur with Uber drivers nationally that have come across my desk than taxi cab and limousine drivers put together,” the PTC executive director says.

There is a website called Who’s Driving You? that provides links to reports of assaults, kidnappings, DUIs and other offenses committed by ridesharing drivers. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was created by the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA).

The PTC continues to spend thousands of dollars monthly in a deal with ClearChannel Outdoor on advertising, warning potential users of Uber and its ridesharing rival Lyft. “Be cautious of illegal transportation drivers,” the billboards read.

In light of Judge Huey’s ruling, Gore says it’s time for the agency to knock that off.

“We hope that the Hillsborough County PTC will see this as an opportunity to reconsider its publicly funded campaign against ridesharing and help us lead Tampa Bay toward a brighter transportation future with modern regulations that ensure access to safe and affordable options like Uber,” Gore said a statement sent to Florida Politics.

The company suspended operations in Broward County last month, citing too many restrictions from county commissioners.

Cockream says he will meet up with other high-ranking officials with the PTC to decide on what move to make now in the wake of the ruling against them.

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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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