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Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Still no progress in Tampa hired-car imbroglio

— The sides in Tampa’s hired-car wars have largely kept to a cease-fire in their legal and public relations battles.

But hardly any progress has been made in allowing the entry of smartphone-app based car services like Lyft and Uber into the Tampa market.

Kyle Cockream, executive director of Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission, has been in talks with representatives from both companies, first in March and again in May, he said.

“We’ve discussed variances to some of the rules,” Cockream said. Those discussions haven’t yet resulted in action.

Representatives for the companies were circumspect on Monday.

Lyft is “continuing to have productive discussions with the commission,” spokeswoman Paige Thelen said.

Added Uber spokeswoman Natalia Montalvo: “We’re engaged in ongoing discussions with the Hillsborough PTC to find a solution that will modernize and enhance Tampa’s transportation ecosystem. ... We look forward to continuing to expand options for consumers and promote economic opportunities for drivers.”

Taxi and limousine companies in Florida and elsewhere see the services as unfair competition. They say taxi and black-car drivers face rigorous requirements for licensing, insurance and inspections that Lyft and Uber don’t abide by.

The companies did score a victory last week when the Miami-Dade County Commission gave a preliminary OK to a measure allowing drivers for Lyft, Uber and similar services to operate there.

The start-ups – often branding themselves as technology companies, not transportation firms – have been battling taxi and livery regulators across the country.

Customers use an application on their smartphone to find available drivers, who may use their own vehicles and don’t necessarily carry commercial insurance. Unlike cabs, rates can spike during times of high demand, such as bad weather.

Both companies flouted regulators and deployed cars in recent months in Tampa.

The regulators struck back and gave tickets to 16 Lyft and Uber drivers, socking each with $800 in fines, Cockream said. Offenses included unlawful operation of a motor vehicle and failure to carry proper insurance.

Cockream said he asked the companies to get an opinion from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation about the kind of insurance their drivers would need to pass muster as hired-car operators under current state law.

So far, “there’s been no response from either,” he said.

Cockream said he even offered to buy a $2,000 Live Scan system for the commission to do background checks on their drivers.

“Live Scan is a device that electronically takes fingerprints and other information, then uploads that information to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, (which) in turn sends them to the FBI for a fingerprint background check,” according to the website.

“We want to come up with an amicable solution for everyone, but first and foremost, for the customers,” Cockream said.

Meantime, Uber’s most recent publicity play was last week, with an “Ice Cream Friday” promotion in 144 cities.

In Tampa, the price for a delivery of a “mix of artisan ice cream and classic soft-serve” was $20.


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