TAMPA — In its crackdown on the increasingly popular but unregulated Uber and Lyft ride-sharing programs, the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission agreed Wednesday to ask other law enforcement agencies for help.
The two outfits have operated in Tampa for several months now, causing friction with the transportation commission and the taxi and limousine industries, which say the companies are in violation of state laws and local regulations. Uber and Lyft don't carry the proper insurance and aren't certified, they say.
Uber and Lyft allow customers to request a ride via smartphone apps from drivers who aren't required to have the same costly licenses and permits required of taxi drivers. Their websites tout that they are a cheaper option than taxis and don't rely on the same meter system.
So far, PTC inspectors have fined 12 drivers and issued 44 tickets that come with fines ranging from $100 to $500.
But at least two local law enforcement agencies that will soon be formally asked to help the PTC say that policing these regulations is not their battle.
Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Andrea Davis said the issue does not involve the police agency and directed a reporter to speak instead with City Attorney Julia Mandell.
"I don't believe that TPD has the authority to issue citations," Mandell said. "It's kind of like having TPD go out and be code enforcers. It's a civil process, not a criminal process."
The transportation commission, along with its executive director and chief inspector, disagree.
"For them to say it's a civil matter, no, it's not," Chief Inspector Mario Tamargo said. "When you start saying you're not going to enforce it, that it's not part of your job, that's not true."
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokesman Larry McKinnon said deputies are not currently targeting Lyft or Uber and have not been involved in enforcing PTC regulations.
"We're going to enforce the traffic laws just like we do with anyone else, but as far as the regulatory laws, those are things we have not been brought into in the past," McKinnon said. "Whether we get into it in the future, we'll have to review that letter and see what they request of us."
According to Florida law that lays out the rules of the PTC, "any person who violates or fails to comply with … any provision of this act or any rules adopted in accordance with this act is guilty of a criminal offense and misdemeanor." The law also states that any law enforcement agencies operating within the county are responsible for the enforcement of PTC special acts.
"When you look at the state statues and the enacting legislation, the PTC is a legislative body just like a city council and a county commission," said PTC Chairman Victor Crist, who is also a Hillsborough County commissioner.
"And when we legislate rules, they become laws. And the laws are to be upheld by law enforcement and by the courts."
Mandell, based on her reading of the law, said it seems PTC would first have to go through the citation process before Tampa police or any enforcement mechanism would come into play.
"It was always their feeling, and my feeling as well, that this is a regulatory process that needs to be gone through, as opposed to being an individual violation directly of Florida statue," Mandell said.
While the transportation commission held its meeting Wednesday morning, more than 30,000 taxi and limo drivers in Europe led demonstrations protesting Uber and asking for tougher regulations against the company. Last week, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles sent a cease-and-desist letter to both companies, banning them from the state.
Both McKinnon and Mandell said the agencies first need to see the specific written request from the transportation commission. Once the letter is received, they said, further conversations will determine what role, if any, local law enforcement will play in the crackdown.
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 661-2443.