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Hillsborough negotiating with Lyft, but Uber not talking

TAMPA — The agency that regulates Hillsborough County's cabs and limos is playing good cop, bad cop with ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber.

The Public Transportation Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles, is negotiating with the companies to get them to comply with county rules.

But while the PTC is talking to the companies, it has referred an unspecified number of ride-sharing drivers to the county State Attorney's Office for possible misdemeanor charges.

Companies like Lyft and Uber designed smartphone applications that allow people to hire private vehicles. The companies bill it as a cheaper alternative to taxis, but have resisted regulations that traditional taxis must obey.

The PTC wants ride-sharing companies to require their drivers to undergo background checks, beef up insurance and undergo vehicle inspections, just like the county's taxis.

The negotiations with Lyft and Uber are going at different rates, PTC executive director Kyle Cockream said.

"The discussions with Lyft seem to be going much faster," he said, "and are more progressive than with Uber."

While Lyft has been open to the county's entreaties, Uber hasn't responded at all.

The PTC director said Lyft has been open to subjecting its drivers to background checks that involve fingerprints. The ride-sharing companies use names and dates of birth to check out drivers, Cockream said, but that isn't as reliable as fingerprint checks.

Taxi and limo drivers have insurance that covers their passengers, but Lyft and Uber don't.

Lyft seemed amenable to addressing that, Cockream said, and he asked the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation to weigh in on a possible compromise.

The PTC also wants Lyft and Uber drivers to have their vehicles inspected by certified mechanics, something the county requires of all taxis and limos.

"Lyft hasn't committed to saying they will," Cockream said. "But they certainly haven't said they won't."

Lyft released this statement late Friday: "Tampa residents have enthusiastically embraced ride-sharing and we share . . . Cockream's optimism that a new regulatory framework can be created for community-powered transportation."

Uber did not respond to a request for comment.

The PTC is pursuing criminal charges against ride-sharing drivers for violating county rules.

Cockream declined to identify them or say how many were cited. But he did say some were not affiliated with Lyft or Uber and appeared to be picking up passengers on their own.

Those drivers cited by the PTC could face misdemeanor charges and fines. But Cockream said that's a decision to be made by prosecutors, not his agency.

Contact Jamal Thalji at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.

Hillsborough negotiating with Lyft, but Uber not talking 08/01/14 [Last modified: Friday, August 1, 2014 9:56pm]
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