TAMPA — The agency that regulates cabs and limos in Hillsborough County made its first attempt Wednesday to compromise with ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber, which have been operating illegally for months as they expand here.
The Public Transportation Commission proposed two changes in hopes of accommodating the companies. But the changes still force Lyft and Uber to charge customers at least $30 and make them order the service at least a half-hour in advance.
Both companies, which tout lower fares than traditional taxis, are likely to balk.
The transportation commission is hoping the changes, which it says are the first in an ongoing series, will be viewed as a good-faith effort to find a common ground, PTC executive director Kyle Cockream said.
Customers use smartphone applications to request a ride from nearby Lyft or Uber drivers, who use their own vehicles and don't have the same licenses and permits required of taxi drivers.
"We're trying to make a model for these non-metered vehicles that are on the street where people call in with an app," said Tampa City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin, who serves on the PTC. "We're hoping to reach a compromise while at the same time protecting the public."
The ride-sharing companies were placed Wednesday under a new "non-luxury limousine" category. But since there is a minimum $60 fare for limousines, and a requirement that customers order the service at least an hour in advance, a second recommendation involved cutting those minimums in half.
Because Uber and Lyft don't operate on the same meter system as cabs, they best fit within the expanded regulatory framework for limousines, said Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, who serves as the PTC chairman.
Uber has luxury services known as Uber Black and Uber Lux. But its main draw is UberX, which functions most similarly to a cab. Both Lyft and UberX are used primarily for short distances and single trips — not as limos.
"That will be the next thing we need to work out," Crist said. "Maybe we go back and define what a meter is, and recognize a cellphone as a meter. Maybe we'll have to have a required app we are assured is fair and functions accurately. This isn't the end; this is the beginning."
Neither Lyft nor Uber returned calls for comment. In an email, Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett avoided commenting on specific questions on the changes.
"We look forward to continuing to work with the PTC to develop a regulatory framework that embraces consumer choice and opportunity," Bennett wrote.
Both companies continue to operate here despite protests from the commission. Cockream said the agency has continued to fine and ticket drivers, and that about eight or nine criminal misdemeanor cases are at the state attorney's office for review.
Louis Minardi, president of Yellow Cab, said he recognizes the commission is trying to find a way to regulate Lyft and Uber, but that hasn't stopped the companies from continuing to provide rides throughout Tampa Bay.
"I think we're probably to that pivotal point where if they're not willing to change, there's not a whole lot we can do," Minardi said. "Everyone knows they're still operating, that they don't have the insurance and the other issues, but they're still here. I don't know where we go from here."
Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.