Uber vows to restart deregulation battle next session

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A plan for the state take over local limousine regulations in several Florida cities may not have passed the legislature this year, but it was not for the lack of trying.

Uber — the smartphone app that connects passengers to luxury towncar drivers — is looking to gain traction in Florida. But for now, it’s mostly stuck on the sidelines, allowed to operate only in Jacksonville.

At issue is local regulations on the limo business, with rules such as base fares and minimum wait times throughout cities like Tampa, Orlando, Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

“Why does it have to cost $50,” asks Uber’s East Coast General Manager Rachel Holt.

“Why is there no other option to get a classy ride…to go down the street in Tampa, or $35 to go down the street in Orlando, or $70 to go down the street in Miami? There are laws on the books that are simply not in the best interest of consumers,” Holt told Lynn Hatter of WFSU.

After state lawmakers filed an Uber-backed proposal, weakened to cover only Hillsborough County, pushback from taxi companies and local governments killed the bill in committee.

Taxi operators are concerned that allowing Uber in their markets will give limos an advantage, forcing taxis to continue following the regulations.

Uber also pushed a broad proposal to allow its sister ride-share service, UberX, to run throughout Florida. Under heavy opposition by the insurance industry, that bill was also watered down.

“We need to make sure the rules of the road regarding insurance coverage should be clarified so that those TNC’s–transportation network companies—drivers and the public know where they stand and have certainty that they’re protected if an accident occurs with an UberX or Lyft or SideCar,” Property Casualty Insurers of America representative Donovan Brown told WFSU.

Last weekend, the City of Tampa began fining Uber drivers — along with rival company Lyft — for not carrying commercial auto insurance policies, which are required for taxis.

Uber officials intend to return to the issue in next year’s legislative session, to remove the outdated regulations they call “restrictive barriers to business.”

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.