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Jeff Brandes bill would reduce local choice of representation on Hillsborough County PTC

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St. Petersburg GOP state Sen. Jeff Brandes has filed legislation that would allow share-riding companies Uber and Lyft to operate legally in Florida, and would also change the current composition of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission — an agency that Brandes tried to kill in proposed legislation a year ago.

The Brandes bill on the ride-sharing companies is similar to its companion in the House filed last week by Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz in many respects. They both impose state requirements for insurance, background checks for drivers and minimum vehicle safety standards, but the House version contains more regulations.

The Gaetz bill would require Uber and Lyft to pay a $5,000 annual permit fee, post fare calculations and insurance coverage limitations on their websites, provide electronic receipts to passengers, and provide insurance for drivers if their personal vehicle insurance doesn’t cover them when they’re providing rides. Also, Uber and Lyft would be required to implement a “zero tolerance” drug and alcohol policy. Passenger complaints of drivers would result in an automatic suspension of the driver until the companies complete an investigation.

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said Wednesday in an email that, “We applaud Sen. Brandes for his leadership and taking this positive step forward in creating a uniform set of ride-sharing rules across the entire state. We look forward to continuing to work with the State Legislature and providing access to the choice and opportunity that all Floridians deserve.”

But inside the omnibus transportation bill filed by Brandes on Wednesday is language that would switch the power of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission board from local governments to the governor’s office.

It would reduce the number of Hillsborough County representatives from three to two, reduce the number of Tampa representatives from two to one, and eliminate the single representatives from Plant City and Temple Terrace. In its place would be four representatives chosen by the governor (but all still from Hillsborough County).

This month, the PTC voted to go to court to stop the ride-sharing companies, approving a call to file for injunctive relief against both Uber and Lyft. The motion was proposed by Temple Terrace City Council member David Pogorilich, whose seat would be removed if the bill passes.

Last year Brandes, along with Tampa GOP Rep. Jamie Grant, tried on a couple of occasions to pass legislation that would effectively kill the PTC, created as a special district by the Legislature back in the 1950s. Over the years the PTC has been the source of criticism, particularly regarding the behavior of previous board members.

It drew the wrath of Uber fans several years ago when the company said they couldn’t continue to use their Uber Black car service in Tampa because of the unfairness of the PTC’s $50 minimum fare requirement. A separate lawsuit against the minimum fee was filed in 2013, and a Hillsborough County Circuit judge could rule on the matter any day now.

Brandes, Grant, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, among others, have complained that the PTC stifles innovation and simply isn’t needed any longer. But supporters, like PTC Chair Victor Crist, insist, “The new and improved PTC of today is not the old and troubled PTC of yesterday.”

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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