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Wednesday, Aug 15, 2018
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Ruth: The folly of using taxi workers in an Uber sting

Just a small word of advice to Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission Executive Director Kyle Cockream. You are not the Eliot Ness of ridesharing.

And yet there was Cockream a few months ago colluding with officials associated with taxi and limousine companies to lure competing Uber and Lyft drivers into a sting operation.

One can only imagine the strategy session between Cockream and his mercenary army from Yellow Cab and Kings Executive Limo and Car Service. “They bring a Prius, you pull a Lincoln Town Car. They send yours to Ybor City with a GPS, you send one of his to the impound lot! That’s the Tampa way!”

Under Cockream’s guidance in the spring, operatives from the cab and limo companies posed as normal Uber and Lyft customers, who then directed drivers to various locations where PTC enforcers were waiting to hand out $700 fines to the unsuspecting rideshare workers.

This was a bit like the Justice Department enlisting Bank of America to spy on Wells Fargo. No unethical conflict of interest there!

The Cockream Ultimatum comes at a time when the PTC has been in contentious negotiations to impose a greater level of regulation on Uber and Lyft.

And now, because Cockream decided to channel his inner Serpico of ridesharing, Uber and Lyft have legitimate concerns the PTC has hardly been an honest broker in hammering out an agreement to regulate the companies.

“In hindsight, I probably would not have done this,” Cockream told the Tampa Bay Times’ Christopher O’Donnell. “I can see how it can be perceived in a negative light.”

Negative light? Does Cockream not realize he’s perceived as a complete dufus for conspiring with the very people who stand to gain financially by undermining Uber and Lyft? You would think for his $143,000-a-year paycheck, he would know better.

Cockream disingenuously claimed neither Yellow Cab, nor Kings Executive Limo received any compensation from the PTC for their heroic efforts to dragoon Uber and Lyft drivers into getting slapped with the $700 fines. But since the PTC derives its $1.2 million annual operating revenue from the fees it charges to cabs, limos, shuttle vans, tow trucks and handicapped transportation services, the agency clearly had a financial interest in damaging the bottom line of the competing rideshare companies.

Revelations of Cockream’s regulatory harassment couldn’t come at a more inopportune time.

Earlier this month, amid great fanfare, Uber signed a partnership agreement with the Tampa Bay Lightning. During the season, two lanes on Channelside Drive outside Amalie Arena will be dedicated to Uber drivers picking up hockey fans attending the team’s games.

Does anyone really believe Cockream and his crack ridesharing detectives are going to be standing out in front of Amalie Arena dispensing $700 fines to the legions of Uber drivers descending on Channelside Drive to service their customers?

But this is the Public Transportation Commission, where rationality goes to die.

It is probably not very smart to start hassling the patrons of the city’s premier sports franchise, not to mention team owner Jeff Vinik, who is also the leading developer of Tampa’s downtown, over a very popular ridesharing service.

And on the off, off, off chance this reality hasn’t quite taken root for Cockream, it should be noted Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn thinks the Uber/Lightning deal is simply a bully idea.

The PTC board is set to vote on the regulatory proposals on Nov. 9. But it would seem for all practical purposes the vote of confidence expressed by Buckhorn, Vinik and the Lightning has pretty well resolved the great Uber/Lyft war - Cockream’s rideshare dragnet notwithstanding.

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