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RIDE REGULATORS WANT OWN APP - MINUS UBER, LYFT

Regulators who oversee Hillsborough County's for-hire vehicles want to create a countywide transportation smartphone app similar to ones used by Uber and Lyft - only without including those ride-share companies in it.

At Wednesday's meeting, the Public Transportation Commission heard pitches from two companies proposing the agency get its own app featuring legal transportation options - such as licensed taxi and limo companies and buses - rather than the ride-share services currently operating here against the rules.

"We've developed an app that does everything theirs do, except it complies with the law," said Tom Smith, who presented an app nearly identical to Uber's called Click-a-Ride.

Commission executive director Kyle Cockream said he would put together a draft of a request for proposals from companies interested in creating the app, which he will present at the next board meeting.

"The goal is to include all of the licensed and insured transportation companies, everything from taxis, limos to vans to Hartline to the trolley system," he said. "Everything. So it really gives the consumer the option."

Customers would use the smartphone app to request a service. They could choose what type of ride they want - for example, a taxi or a group van - and would be shown a list of compliant companies to select.

From there, the app would be similar to the Lyft or Uber models: Passengers would see nearby drivers and their ratings, could track the ride via GPS as it approaches, would pay with a credit card through the app and could rate the driver afterward. Only companies that take credit cards would be listed, Cockream said.

As for the rating system, which both Lyft and Uber utilize, Cockream said it would likely be a mix of consumer comments and ratings along with feedback from the regulatory agency, including how many tickets or violations the company or driver has.

It's unclear how much money the PTC is willing to devote to this project. Cockream said that will become more apparent once the agency receives proposals.

Because Lyft and Uber are not in compliance with the county, their services would not be available on the app, Cockream said.

Uber and Lyft representatives did participate in a public workshop about PTC rules and regulations earlier this month, but did not submit any recommendations for rule changes, Cockream said. They also have denied an offer from the PTC to come into compliance by having their drivers come into the agency's office for background checks and vehicle inspections.

"They could be legal right now if they wanted to," PTC Chairman Victor Crist said. "It's not difficult. They're refusing to."

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said the company intends to work with officials to find a long-term solution for ride-sharing.

"We've made it very clear that we're willing and eager to work with the PTC to develop sensible ride-sharing regulations, and the people of Tampa have made it very clear that they want safer, more reliable and affordable transportation options," he said.

During Wednesday's meeting, Crist backed away from previous statements he made about establishing a $30 minimum fee and 30-minute minimum wait time for Lyft and Uber. Originally, the minimums were created for a new category of nonluxury limousines that he said would include Uber and Lyft.

But last month, a hearing master ruled that the smartphone apps used by Uber's drivers are essentially serving as taxi meters and its vehicles are largely functioning as cabs.

Uber is appealing that ruling to the PTC, and the issue will likely come before the board next month, if schedules allow. Lyft is also appealing tickets inspectors issued to the company.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.

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