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Uber, Airbnb insurance requirements approved by Senate panel

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A bill creating insurance requirements for short-term rental and transportation network companies — bywords for industry leaders Airbnb and Uber, respectively — passed the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee this afternoon, though not without an airing of grievances about some practices within the “disruptive” ridesharing business.

Altamonte state Sen. David Simmons, an influential member of the Republican majority known for his policy chops, introduced the bill back in late February, which aims to clarify one of the murkiest issues of the sharing economy: who is on the hook when something goes wrong, and whose insurance policy will cover it.

Both Airbnb and Uber — along with Lyft, odd-job posting hub TaskRabbit, and others — are quick to brandish $1 million insurance coverage they offer to both clients and contractors when they do business, but exactly when and how they apply is a contentious matter. Not coincidentally, the bill requires policies covering both ridesharing and short-term rental companies to provide liability coverage at a minimum at $1 million.

Florida Taxi Cab Association president and mortal enemy of app-based ride-hailing services Louie Minardi accused Uber and Lyft of “smoke and mirrors” tactics designed to conceal the true nature of their hugely profitable business. Minardi said Simmons’ bill was necessary to ward off public safety and consumer issues stemming from ridesharing’s ambiguous legal status and voluntary insurance provisions.

Floyd Webb of Yellow Cab Tallahassee stopped short of accusing Uber of bad faith, but inveighed against an improper practice on the part of some contracted drivers who allegedly will give “the first ride on the platform, and the second one off,” i.e. transact future rides with customers informally, going around the application’s platform and cutting out legal and company restrictions.

“This bill is necessary to fill in that gap,” said Webb.

Cesar Fernandez from Uber Technologies, on the other hand, was apprehensive about the bill during the hearing’s public testimony period, truncated due to long debates over property insurance.

“I think our goals here are aligned,” said Fernandez, but “right now, every single ride we facilitate is covered by $1 million.” Travel in cases when the app is on but the driver is without a passenger “should not be covered at the same commercial rate” as would be required of a taxi cab.

Fernandez indicated that he is hopeful an amended form of the bill could pass, but that Uber was against Simmons’ bill as currently written.

The bill passed by a 7-0 vote.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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