Uber suffers another setback at the hands of Hillsborough PTC

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Rideshare provider Uber is an “illegal taxi service,” at least in the eyes of the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission.

That is what the PTC bluntly told Uber attorneys after they asked the county to update rules allowing the ridesharing movement.

On Wednesday, the PTC unanimously agreed that the designated officer had enough evidence to fine the San Francisco-based company, ruling that Uber and competitor Lyft provides hiring and public taxi services without proper licenses.

During the meeting, Uber attorney Drew Sorrell argued that the company is not a transportation service, but a technology company. He insisted that Uber is not covered by the current transportation regulations as they are now written.

Sorrell, of the Orlando law firm Lowndes Drosdick Doster Kantor and Reed said, “There’s a perfectly good way to do this, and that is to write the rules so that they fit.”

“They just don’t fit here,” he added.

Hillsborough County attorney Rob Brazel responded that Uber has all the elements of a taxi service but one; it uses a phone instead of a customary taxi meter.

“There is no question they are transporting people in this county and profiting from it,” Brazel said.

The PTC says it has tried to bring Uber and Lyft into compliance, but Uber’s lawyer, speaking with Wade Millward of the Tampa Bay Business Journal, said the next step is to take the issue to appeals court, as opposed to the transportation commission.

Also displaying frustration over Hillsborough’s crackdown on ridesharing was Uber’s Florida General Manager Matthew Gore.

“I’m certainly seeing bias,” Gore said. “The old regulations don’t address this new industry. We need modern rules.”

Traditional taxi companies protest that Uber avoids licensing, and gets support from Google, which give it unfair advantage in the marketplace.

“Uber is a taxi company, they just have an app to do what a taxi is doing,” Cab Plus founder Brook Negusei told the Business Journal after the meeting,

“All we are asking for is a level playing field,” Negusei said.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.