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Gasparilla: to Uber or not to Uber?

TAMPA — As Tampa Bay's biggest party weekend approaches, wannabe pirates are finalizing their plans, including how to get home from Saturday's Gasparilla festivities.

Sure, there are cabs, buses and designated drivers. And then there is Uber, the rideshare company that came to Tampa more than a year and a half ago and has caused all sorts of drama.

On the plus side, it's cheap. Usually. Fares are 65 cents a mile while cabs are set at $2.40 a mile. Riders can use an app on their phone to page a nearby driver and watch on the map as the car approaches — which means no waiting around for 20 minutes wondering when your ride is going to arrive.

Captain Morgan is partnering with Uber this weekend, offering $20 ride vouchers for Gasparilla attendees 21-years-old and over. Just enter the promo code 'pirateresponsibly' in the Uber app by 2 p.m. Saturday for a chance to be one of 1,000 winners. The discount is redeemable for rides taken before Monday.

But here's the catch: that $20 might not be worth that much if Uber's infamous surge pricing goes into effect. The supply-and-demand pricing model can lead to fares as much as 10 times the normal rate during popular events when requests for rides outnumber drivers available.

One Tampa resident learned that the hard way when a 3.4 mile ride after a Florida State University game cost her almost $100. There are countless stories similar to this nationwide — such as the Virginia woman who paid $640.94 to take a 30-minute ride to Reagan National Airport during the recent blizzard.

Normally, without surge pricing, a 2.5 mile ride from Bayshore Boulevard to W Swann Avenue and N Dale Mabry Highway would cost $5 to $6, according to Uber's online price calculator. But if surge pricing is in effect, that 10-minute ride could skyrocket to $50. And that's just for a ride within South Tampa.

It's not just the increased amount of inebriated party-goers seeking safe rides that could up the cost Saturday. Local drivers, outraged by Uber's decision to drop rates to 65 cents, plan to protest during the Gasparilla by not driving. Which means supply will be even lower than usual.

"Operation Cruise Gasparilla" will entail all involved rideshare drivers logging off the app for one hour. During that time, they'll drive slowly through populated streets such as Kennedy Boulevard with signs on their cars such as "prepare for 10X surge tonight," "Uber is looting customers today" and "Ahoy! Uber is stealing your booty."

All this takes place within a local climate where regulators have been trying to bring Uber and other rideshare companies into compliance, arguing that the companies don't provide adequate insurance, background checks or vehicle inspections. The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles, has tried issuing tickets and filing lawsuits, but hasn't had much luck.

For now, the PTC and Uber are in a cease-fire -— though the PTC still maintains that driving for Uber is illegal — in hopes that legislators in Tallahassee will pass a bill that legalizes ridesharing while also assuaging regulators' concerns.

Until then, the rideshare company will continue to operate in Tampa as per normal — surge pricing and all.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.

Gasparilla: to Uber or not to Uber? 01/29/16 [Last modified: Friday, January 29, 2016 1:01pm]
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