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Column: Florida needs statewide rules for Uber and Lyft

By Bob Rohrlack, special to the Tampa Bay Times

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce supports a fair and open market. Our members support competition, and it should be expected for a strong economy. Business should and can thrive in a community that has one set of rules that are applied to the entire industry and not just a fraction of that industry or market.

This is why the chamber supports statewide regulation for ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft. To have fragmented and onerous regulations from one county to the next only creates confusion and lack of competition. In a state where so much of our economy is dependent on tourism and visitors, it is imperative that Florida have one set of rules that can be applied from Tallahassee to Miami and not 67 different sets of rules that change at the county line.

The recent regulations that have been implemented in Hillsborough County are not only creating more problems but are also reducing transportation options for many residents. This vote of the Public Transportation Commission last week sent a message that competition is not welcome here in Hillsborough County. It said that this community is not looking forward, and this is not acceptable to the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. There are several efforts in Hillsborough County focused on innovation and "disruptive" technology. There is a goal to have smart, innovative minds here to have a leading edge economy. Any action blocking innovative technology like ridesharing systems sends a message that innovation is not welcome here.

There is a way to improve options while still protecting the safety of Floridians. A safe and competitively priced ride system should be a priority. Keeping Floridians safe is an important responsibility and one that should not be taken lightly. However, this should not be done at the expense of convenience or the ability to get around.

The chamber urges the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation to act swiftly and decisively in the upcoming session. The 2017 Legislative Session must be the year to pass a statewide law to regulate transportation networking companies in a fair, safe and reasonable way. Anything short of this is dismissing Floridians who have grown to depend on these companies for transportation needs.

In a community where transportation options are limited and our local elected officials have done nothing to improve these options, it is vital that our state Legislature act as soon as possible to help keep people moving in Florida. Removing one more option from the list of possibilities not only hurts the people who use the services, but the businesses that call our community home. What business is going to want to locate in a community where their employees have limited options to get to work?

Many legislators in the community have spoken up and have said that they believe now is the time to act and they are committed to doing something by passing legislation during the next session. The chamber applauds the members of the Florida House and Senate who have promised to do something. We will stand in support with them in Tallahassee. We call on the members of both the Senate and the House to work together to create a uniform, equal playing field for Florida and ridesharing options. We ask the governor's office to make this a priority in his agenda. The chamber will continue to work and support efforts to make a change for the better.

To our legislators, now is the time to act. We look forward to working with you on a solution for all of Florida.

Bob Rohrlack is president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.