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Latest attempt at ride-sharing agreement foiled once again at the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission

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After weeks of negotiations, an agreement that would finally bring ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft into compliance with the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Agency once again failed to advance on Wednesday.

The board voted 4-1 to suspend talks with the two companies until the 2nd DCA in Lakeland decides on whether the PTC had the right to issue citations to ride-sharing companies. A hearing is set for June 22, but a ruling on that decision could take months to decide.

A month ago, local news agencies reported that after two years, a deal between the two companies and the Hillsborough PTC was imminent. However, that failed to occur at the PTC’s monthly meeting in May. The parties involved continued their discussions over the past four weeks, and PTC Chairman Victor Crist introduced the latest version Wednesday morning to his PTC colleagues.

Crist implored the board to pass the agreement, because, he said, in his discussions with state lawmakers, they were poised once again next year to eliminate the PTC unless they acted. He said he was informed that while there may be another ride-sharing proposal introduced in the Legislature in 2017, such a bill is expected to die once again.  He said that there probably will be such a bill in 2018. “A fifteen-month operating agreement that will take us through the next two legislative sessions, so that the agency isn’t on the dartboard for the Legislature,” he said, warning that the elimination of the agency would jeopardize the safety of Hillsborough residents.

It wasn’t a convincing enough argument for his colleagues.

Regarding background checks, the new policy was labeled by Crist and PTC attorney Cindy Oster as “Level 1 ++”, which again  precluded the use of fingerprints, something that Uber in particular has always objected to. That prompted Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick to object, saying that he didn’t like the fact that the two companies we’re “dictating” the parameters of the discussion.

In reaction, Crist, who several times throughout the meeting grew visibly angry, blasted Reddick as flouting “irresponsible rule making.” He further went on to say that he was the only one sitting at the table who had been a lawmaker for 26 years, and was not “speaking as an amateur.”

“I’m going to take exception to that comment,” responded board member Al Higginbotham.

Crist emphasized that the product at hand wasn’t perfect, but the best compromise that the PTC staff had negotiated with Uber and Lyft. He said that he personally objected to a 42-day grace period for background and vehicle inspection checks.

“There’s no agreement here,” David Pogorilich said as the discussion continued. “You keep saying it’s only for 15 months, but it has more long range implications,” he told Crist. “There’s no agreement, so there’s nothing for us to approve or disapprove.”

Before the board voted to suspend the discussions, Crist verbally attacked his board members, saying that they were allowing the putting the riding public at risk.

Not true, admonished Pogorilich. It was Uber and Lyft who were putting the public at risk.

“Personally, I don’t think that we should putting the PTC’s name on something just to say, ‘well, it’s less crappy than it was before,'” said Pogorilich, who serves as a city councilman in Temple Terrace. “To me, that’s not compromise. That’s giving up.”

Over the past year, Uber and Lyft have reached agreements to operate legally in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. They are not in compliance in Hillsborough and Orange counties.

 

 

 

 

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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