TAMPA — The fine for being behind the wheel of an Uber or Lyft vehicle in Hillsborough County could soon rise by $200, a move by the Public Transportation Commission likely to deepen its ongoing rift with the rideshare companies.
Under a proposal unanimously approved by a PTC rules committee Wednesday, penalties for drivers without required insurance and permits would rise from $700 to $900. Rideshare firms also would be harder hit: The fine for allowing the operation of a vehicle without a permit would double from $200 to $400.
The tougher fines were proposed by PTC board member David Pogorilich, a Temple Terrace council member, who said Uber and Lyft need to follow county regulations. The PTC regulates for-hire vehicles such as taxicabs and limousines in Hillsborough County.
"They need to understand there are penalties for operating illegally in Tampa and Hillsborough County," Pogorilich said. "It's not retribution. We keep looking for a way to ensure the safety of the traveling public and if it takes increasing the fines to do that, that's what we're going to do."
Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, who serves as the PTC board chairman, also voted for the increased fines, which are expected to go for approval before the full PTC board as soon as July 19. The fines were last raised in 2013.
If approved, the new fines could go into effect by the middle of August. The seven-member board includes other members who have taken a hard line against moves to loosen PTC regulations to accommodate rideshare companies.
Wednesday's vote comes in the wake of a failed attempt by Crist to get the PTC to agree to a temporary operating agreement to settle outstanding lawsuits between the board and the two rideshare firms that Crist said have captured up to 25 percent of local taxicab business since 2014.
That includes an appeal Uber filed with the 2nd District Court of Appeal to overturn the ticketing of five of its drivers cited by PTC officers in 2014.
The court heard oral arguments June 22 and is expected to rule in the next few months on a case that could determine if the PTC has the right to regulate rideshare in Hillsborough.
The rules committee's actions drew criticism from both Uber and Lyft.
"Uber has tried to work in good faith with the PTC on modern, sensible ridesharing regulations," said Javi Correoso, an Uber spokesman. "Each time we've attempted to engage with them and work constructively, the PTC moves forward with unworkable rules that would prevent Hillsborough residents from having access to the safe, affordable and reliable rides that ridesharing entities like Uber provide."
"Penalizing residents who use ridesharing to help make ends meet isn't good for passengers, drivers or anyone else in Tampa," said Chelsea Wilson, a spokeswoman for Lyft. "Instead of trying to force Lyft into one-size-fits-all taxi regulations, we urge the city to encourage modern transportation options like ridesharing."
Uber and Lyft have argued that PTC rules that mandate background checks, fees and vehicle inspections required of taxis or limos should not apply to them.
In response, PTC officers have ticketed rideshare drivers for operating illegally, including citations for 139 Uber drivers and 35 Lyft drivers in the past 12 months.
The majority of drivers have paid the fines, according to Kyle Cockream, PTC executive director.
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at email@example.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.