As Hillsborough PTC discusses Uber today, a serious question about a missing email

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On Wednesday, the Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission will discuss ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.

Hillsborough County regulators have been going undercover to ticket drivers they say are operating illegally, whether they drive for Uber and Lyft or traditional taxi companies.

The PTC, which regulates for-hire vehicles, has reported issuing about 50 tickets so far.

The undercover work began three months ago. The undercover passengers, who are either PTC investigators or private contractors, take a ride and look for possible violations.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that a majority of the undercover tickets are issued on the spot after the ride, but some have been issued to Lyft, Uber or taxi drivers at their homes.

In June, the commission asked local law enforcement agencies for help cracking down on rideshare companies, but law enforcement officials say policing these regulations isn’t a priority.

In the process of writing a story about Wednesday’s meeting, SaintPetersBlog submitted a public information request to the PTC’s executive director Kyle Cockream asking for all correspondence, documents and internal memorandums related to Uber. SPB had been tipped that there were some incendiary conversations between Cockream and members of the public in which Cockream was particularly disparaging about the company.

After two or three weeks, the ever-polite Cockream fulfilled my request, but only after the County Attorney’s office reviewed the documents being released.

Missing from the trove of documents was the email exchange that prompted the public information request.

With the subject heading of “Uber in Hillsborough,” the emails from September are between Cockream and a local attorney who is a proponent of Uber..

Asked to explain why his conversation with REDACTED was not included in the PIR, Cockream, who described the exchange as “unique,” was at a loss.

“I have no explanation as to why it was not included in the documents you received.  I will be happy to go into the archives and retrieve it for you if you would like a copy of it.  I try desperately to be an open book on issues concerning this position.  To that end, I’ll be happy to sit in front of my computer with you to show you any correspondence related to your request.

“All of the correspondences that came from me and my staff went to the County Attorney’s Office, then to one of their records specialist, then I assume back to the attorney and finally back to me.  I cannot explain the absence of the referenced document.”

Cockream was then asked if the County Attorney’s office redacted the email. All that Cockream would state is:

“I do not know. I was advised that they had to take my disc, print the thousands of pages, review and redact from the hard copies, then scan them all back into a file and download the file back to a disc.  They handled the materials submitted by everyone from my staff, as well as the PTC Board.”

As Cockream stated, this email exchange is “unique.” It provides a window in Cockream’s thinking about Uber — and clearly shows that he is determined to keep Uber out of the Hillsborough marketplace, despite his statements to the contrary.

And what about this line?

“Another interesting detail, Goggle Uber’s owner Travis Kalanick and read about his illegal business called Scouer. He has a history of operating companies in an illegal and unethical manner.”

What does that have to do with the issues at hand? It sounds like the issue has gotten personal for Cockream.

SaintPetersBlog is still asking why this email was not included in the original release of documents. And are there other emails like it.

Unfortunately, as Donald Rumsfeld would say, we don’t know what we don’t know.

As that applies here, we don’t know what else Cockream and the PTC are doing to poison the public’s perception of Uber

Here is the exchange between Cockream and the attorney:

From: Cockream, Kyle [mailto:CockreamK@hillsboroughcounty.org]

Sent: Tuesday, September 09, 2014 12:45 PM
To: REDACTED
Subject: RE: Response re: Uber in Hillsborough County

REDACTED,

As promised.

Insurance

Currently, both Uber & Lyft claim to have insurance provided by a surplus carrier (James River).  This carrier is admitted in Florida, but only as a surplus carrier.  Surplus carriers are not regulated by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulators (FOIR).  This is important because a surplus carrier is not permitted to drop down and become the primary carrier.  If they did, they would have to become an admitted carrier, and be in compliance with F.S.S. 324 governing the Florida Insurance Guarantee Association (FIGA).  In short, FIGA protects consumers by guaranteeing that claims are paid should the carrier leave Florida or suffer financial hardship.  James River is not an admitted through FIGA, and not an admitted primary carrier in the state of Florida.  Neither Uber nor Lyft explain this to consumers, and certainly no to drivers. This is not a PTC issue; this is an insurance industry issue.  The PTC has no discretion in this matter and cannot author a Rule or exception that is in conflict with Florida Law regarding insurance.

http://www.whosdrivingyou.org/insurance-warnings.html

Background Checks

The PTC mandates that any for-hire operator in Hillsborough County submit to a Level 2 (L2) background check.  A L2 background check included the driver applicant submitting fingerprints, which are submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI.  By submitting to this process, the PTC is notified if that person is arrested anywhere in the country.  As a result of that notification, the PTC will revoke the Public Vehicle Driver’s License immediately, which will no longer allow that person to drive a for-hire vehicle in Hillsborough County.  Both Uber & Lyft hire a third party vendor to conduct their background checks.  The process includes the applicant submitting their name, DOB, and SSN.  (I’m not sure how they verify that information.)  Due to false identity issues, this information can easily be all or partially false.  To date, neither company will submit their drivers to a L2 background check.  We believe their vendor does not have the ability to run fingerprints. Additionally, if the PTC (or any other regulatory agency) conducts the background check, the findings will be available to the public via the Florida Public Records Law.  Uber & Lyft are not subject to Public Records Laws; therefore they do not have to disclose any information.  Furthermore, what information they do provide is not subject to any form of verification.  We believe this is problematic.

Minimum Wait Time/ Minimum Fare

Like most major cities, we have a minim wait time and minimum fare.  This only applies to the limousine industryonly, (not the Taxicab model/industry) which Uber & Lyft do not have here in Hillsborough County. The reason this is in pace relates to the issue of insurance.  The insurance industry has two different types of policies related to limousines & taxicabs.  They require specific elements in order to be kept separate.  There is a different policy for a company that transports people 24 hours a day versus a company that transports people 20-30 hours a week.  This issue does not affect UberX or Lyft, yet they link it to their existing model in an effort to make people believe that’s it is somehow a barrier and a way for the industry to keep them out.  We have been willing to compromise with them on this issue in order to get the numbers down as far as possible, both companies have declined and insisted that their should be no minimums.  We don’t see this as a compromise, rather a bullying tactic which will not satisfy the insurance industry.  So a large part of this issue in out of our hands as well.

Just a glimpse of what’s going on around the nation.  I have numerous reports that validate what you will see in these videos.  We have found this to be true locally as well.

http://www.nbcbayarea.com/investigations/Uber-Lyft-and-Sidecar-vying-for-access-to-SFO-261575811.html

http://www.nbcbayarea.com/investigations/Is-Uber-Keeping-Riders-Safe-256438921.html

http://www.nbcchicago.com/investigations/Ride-Service-May-Pose-Risk-to-Passengers-256639641.html

http://www.nbclosangeles.com/investigations/Risky-Ride-Uber-Investigation-256604571.html

Vehicle Inspections

The PTC mandates that for-hire vehicles be inspected by a certified mechanic before going into service, and that it be inspected once a year.  Both Uber & Lyft have one of their drivers do the visual/cosmetic inspection, that “inspector” has no formal mechanical experience.  We do not have an interest in who provides the service, so long as they are certified to properly evaluate the mechanical operation of the vehicle.  To date, we have no agreement on this issue.  Additionally, we have had several drivers tell us that their vehicle was never inspected by anyone from either company.

These are just a few of the issues.  Please understand that we are the ones who reached out to them to try and make adjustments in the current Rules & Laws.  They declined our invitation early in 2014.  Instead, their business model is founded on operating illegally, gaining millions of dollars in free publicity.  In addition to operating illegally, they do a good job of confusing the real issues and leading people to believe that they are somehow not being allowed to enter the market.  This is completely untrue, as we have several ways for them to enter the Tampa Bay Market legally.  Both companies have chosen not to do so. I could easily send you a hundred articles, reports, ect. of examples of how Uber operates using very unethical and deceptive business practices, but I won’t do that to you.

http://pando.com/2014/09/03/uber-asks-judge-to-toss-class-action-lawsuit-by-claiming-it-was-only-lying-to-passengers-not-drivers/?curator=MediaREDEF

www.nationaljournal.com/tech/uber-s-war-on-lyft-could-prompt-federal-investigation-20140827

zelo-street.blogspot.com/2014/08/uber-now-dirty-tricks.html?m=1

When someone turns the spotlight on them, and makes it bright enough, they will act in order to “fix” that problem and that problem only.  There are many of these across the country that Uber will not correct; you can find them on the internet. I hope this at least sheds some light on the details of the issues, which go far beyond what is advertised on Uber’s web site.  Another interesting detail, Goggle Uber’s owner Travis Kalanick and read about his illegal business called Scouer.  He has a history of operating companies in an illegal and unethical manner.

Nonetheless, these companies could come into the industry legally and truly change for-hire transportation.  We believe that they do have some worthy concepts that should be adapted, but in a legal manner.

From: REDACTED

Sent: Thursday, August 28, 2014 9:58 AM
To: Cockream, Kyle

Cc: Murman, Sandra; Jewesak, Craig; supporttampa@uber.com; ‘notifications-support@ubercab.zendesk.com

Subject: RE: Response re: Uber in Hillsborough County

Thank you for the apparent change of heart as to further communications regarding Uber in Hillsborough County.  Unfortunately, I am in Georgia taking depositions on September 4th and, therefore, unavailable.

Notwithstanding, I am a bit puzzled by what we would “discuss.”  If the point is for you to indeed offer information which is inconsistent with my understanding regarding Uber and to provide any reasons for opposition to Uber’s business model, I would think that information could be simply put in an email.  As I obtained my information from online research, including Uber’s website and a variety of articles regarding their business, I would welcome any facts you have that you believe I have not been “exposed to” and the basis for those facts so that I (and the rest of the public) can be as informed as possible.

If, on the other hand, the point is to engage in some sort of debate about the pros and cons of Uber and/or any opposition to allowing them to operate in Hillsborough County, I would think that it would be a much more productive discussion to have directly with Uber’s representative along with the Hillsborough County Commissioners, including Chairman Crist and my commissioner, Commissioner Murman.  For your convenience, I have copied the Uber email accounts I located so you can correspond directly with them, if that is the case.

Again, as I believe was made clear in my initial email, I do not represent Uber and only reached out to you and the Hillsborough County Commissioners simply as a Hillsborough County resident in order to express my opinion that Uber should be allowed to operate as it does in various cities across the United States.

—– Forwarded Message —–

From: “Cockream, Kyle” <CockreamK@hillsboroughcounty.org>
To: REDACTED
Sent: Wednesday, August 27, 2014 7:04 PM
Subject: Re: Response

REDACTED,

I would like to offer to meet you and discuss the issues in depth.  In a short period of time, I believe I can offer you information that perhaps you have not been expose too. I can meet you on Sept 4 if you have time during the afternoon.

Sent from my iPhone

On Aug 26, 2014, at 3:19 PM, REDACTED wrote:

If you truly appreciate civil and productive discussion regarding transportation issues, please advise what is it that you contend is inaccurate about my understanding of how Uber works, exactly?

From: “Cockream, Kyle” <CockreamK@hillsboroughcounty.org>

To: REDACTED
Sent: Tuesday, August 26, 2014 3:11 PM
Subject: Response

REDACTED,

While I encourage you to be engaged in the democratic, civil, and productive process of improving transportation options in Hillsborough County, it is VERY clear that you in fact have not done your research as you initially claimed in your submission.  I strongly recommend that you do so.  There is no need for further communication at this point.

Kyle Cockream, Executive Director

Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission

2007 W. Kennedy Blvd.

Tampa, FL. 33606

Office:  (813) 272-5814  Ext. 72202

Cell:      (813) 410-1927

cockreamk@hillsboroughcounty.org

I want to voice my concern with the PTC’s apparent opposition to allowing Uber in Hillsborough County and efforts to instead limit the choices of the public.

Having done my research, there is a significant amount of misinformation surrounding this service.  As you probably know, UberX rides are insured up to $1M per incident which is over 3 times what is required of the taxicabs in Tampa.  UberX drivers must also pass a rigorous background check, which includes motor vehicle record checks as well as criminal checks at the county, state, and federal levels.  Uber passengers know the make and model of the vehicle picking them up with a picture of the Uber driver.  The Uber driver has a picture of the intended passenger so both know who to look for, making pick-ups quick and efficient, without the worry that someone will “steal” your taxi, a frequent occurrence.

Taxi services in Tampa have long had a legal monopoly, resulting in costs to be unreasonably high.  Moreover, in my experience living in Tampa for over a decade and utilizing all the major companies, including Yellow Cab and United, the taxi services are unreliable and inconvenient.  Tampa deserves better.

Thus, I object to the proposed minimum fare and any other “compromise” that inhibits Uber’s fantastic
business model, which is safe, affordable and efficient in my numerous experiences.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.