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Public meeting on proposed new ride-sharing rules in Hillsborough County goes nowhere

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Since they began operating in Florida in 2014, ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft have successfully negotiated to work legally in many of the state’s biggest areas, including Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

It’s been a different story in Hillsborough County, however, as the two companies have been at odds with the Public Transportation Commission, which for nearly two-and-a-half years have continued to penalize drivers for operating without a permit.

That impasse will continue, after a meeting of the PTC’s Rules and Policy Committee to discuss and vote on new “emergency rules” was aborted after an hour after the acting chairman of the committee, Temple Terrace Councilman David Pogorilich, had to leave to conduct a phone call.

Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco was the only other member of that committee still present after a twenty-minute break. While Pogorilich wanted the meeting to continue without him, Steve Anderson, an attorney for Lyft, objected, saying the committee would be hearing testimony without a full quorum present. The meeting was then adjourned until Aug. 16.

“Embarrassing” was the comment uttered by County Commissioner Al Higginbotham after the meeting had concluded. Higginbotham is a member of the PTC who sat in on the discussion, but he is not a member of the Rules and Policy Committee.

What was at stake were new operating rules proposed for ride-sharing companies — aka TNC’s (transportation network companies) — that were proposed by a brand-new entrant into the market, DriveSociety.

On Monday, an attorney with Uber wrote a letter objecting to the new rules, and claimed that they came with significant input from the taxicab industry, who has also been at odds with Uber and Lyft since they began operating without permits in Hillsborough County in the spring of 2014.

Up until Pogorilich’s exit, the meeting focused on whether it was appropriate for the planned regulations to be listed as “emergency rules.” The ride-sharing companies vehemently disagreed that was the case.

“Where’s the emergency?” questioned Lyft attorney Paul Anderson. “Where’s the overwhelming evidence that there are criminals driving?”

Not true, countered Marcus Carter, the CEO of DriveSociety, referring to an Uber driver arrested last month in Miami for reportedly selling cocaine.

“Why do we have to wait for something like that to happen here?” he asked. “If over 50 percent of the public vehicles that are operating in Hillsborough County are not permitted vehicles? What else could be an emergency for the Public Transportation Commission I ask you … this is a rogue and gypsy infestation in Hillsborough County.”

“Let ’em challenge it,” added Yellow Cab owner Louis Minardi, referring to Anderson’s legal threats. “It’s their problem if they don’t follow state statute. It’s not our job to make it easy for them.

“And it’s not our job to make it more profitable for them. These are the rules.”

The PTC will try again to pick up the process in two weeks.

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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