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Victor Crist hints at “radical” move in Hillsborough if Legislature doesn’t act on Uber, Lyft

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It’s a new year, but the issue remains at Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission: What to do about Transportation Network Companies (TNC) Uber and Lyft that continue to operate outside of the agency’s rules.

That prompted Commission Chairman Victor Crist to threaten on Wednesday a radical solution if the Legislature doesn’t act this Legislative Session.

“If they don’t fix it within the next 60 days, we will here,” he warned. “You may or may not like our fix. But this is not going to be a PTC problem 12 months from now. We are not going to put this agency’s existence in jeopardy anymore.”

The PTC’s January meeting began with public testimony from cab drivers and representatives of the industry calling on the PTC to do something about the issue, a regular source of complaints since Uber and Lyft arrived in Hillsborough nearly two years ago. An exasperated Crist asked PTC attorney Cindy Oster whether the agency had done all it could do, though he already knew the answer.

Oster said it had, telling board members that the agency has sought assistance from the state attorney’s office in charging drivers criminally and filed litigation against the two companies: “We have to operate within the confines of the Special Act and the rules and we have done whatever we can do under those laws to enforce against the Transportation Network Companies.”

The Legislature convened Tuesday, and a hearing on TNCs is scheduled Wednesday afternoon on a bill being sponsored by Fort Walton Beach Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz. It would deal with issues such as  insurance and background checks for drivers, issues at the center of the Uber and Lyft debate not just in Florida but in other jurisdictions around the world.

“We are handcuffed at this point,” a resigned Crist said. “There is one less option we have at our disposal, but it’s radical, and not one that we would wish to exercise but if forced into the corner we’ll have no other chance to do but to move forward with it.”

“Uber and Lyft are integral solutions to Tampa Bay’s transportation problems, and I look forward to further discussions with Victor Crist on insuring that residents of our area continue to have such options,” said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who has fought to help those and similar companies in Tallahassee.

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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