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Uber bill targets Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission

A bill moving through the Florida Legislature was refashioned Friday to take aim at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

The original proposal (HB 1389) sought to let technology-based transportation companies circumvent local municipalities and win approval directly from the state. It was nicknamed the Uber Bill, after the California-based digital booking service that has been rebuffed by government agencies in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties.

On Friday, Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, gutted the bill, and instead proposed new rules for the state's 10 special transportation districts.

He was targeting one special district in particular: the Hillsborough PTC.

In 2012, the PTC effectively blocked Uber from operating during the Republican National Convention by enforcing existing rules about minimum fares and wait times.

"They [Uber] were eventually forced out because the minimum $50 fare makes the business model completely not viable," Grant said.

Under Grant's revised proposal, special districts could not impose a minimum wait time or fare on app-based limousine services. Special districts would also be prohibited from restricting the number of available limousine permits.

"The effect of this bill today is that it would only take regulatory authority in these three small areas from one authority that is currently exercising it, and it would prevent the others doing it in the future," Grant said.

Grant is no fan of the PTC.

Late last year, he and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, submitted a proposal that would have allowed Hillsborough voters to abolish the commission. The concept died before the start of the session because it failed to win the support of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation.

Grant said he had not amended the Uber bill in hopes of abolishing the PTC -- though he said that the commission had already had an opportunity to correct itself.

Instead, Grant said, the bill was about allowing innovative companies like Uber to compete in the marketplace. "These regulations are keeping drivers form an opportunity and consumers from a better price," he said.

Grant's original proposal met strong opposition from the taxi industry and from municipalities, who bemoaned the potential loss of local control. It passed its first committee by a narrow 8-6 vote.

The revised version survived Friday's hearing in the House Economic Affairs Committee by an even closer 9-8 margin.

Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa, said he had reservations about having the legislature decide a local issue.

"This is something that should be negotiated not on the floor of the House, but between the PTC, the cab drivers, the limousine service people and Uber," Danish said. "They need to hammer out some kind of deal."

Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Midway, said the PTC should have more time to address the situation. "If this issue is not improved by next year on the year after, I will be on your team to make sure we do the right thing," he told Grant.

But Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, said the PTC regulations were stifling the marketplace. He said he wished the bill went even further to encourage innovation.

Uber spokesman Justin Kintz also spoke in support of the proposal.

"Consumers are ready to have choice in the marketplace place and should have affordability, reliability and safety," he said.

Grant's bill is now ready for the House floor.

A similar bill by Brandes (SB 1618) was discussed Thursday in the Senate Transportation Committee, but the panel ran out of time to vote.

Brandes said the bill would be addressed next week.