1. Transportation

10 things to understand about Lyft and Uber

Published Oct. 18, 2014

Ride-share companies Uber and Lyft have generated a lot of discussion since they launched here in April. The services, which allow smartphone users to summon nearby drivers, have faced scrutiny nationwide for not complying with regulatory systems aimed at taxis and limousines.

While local regulators and state officials determine how and if the companies will operate in Florida, here's what you need to know about the latest transportation option to hit the Tampa Bay area.

1. What exactly are Lyft and Uber?

Lyft and Uber are two of the leading ride-share companies in the United States. Technically, ride-shares are transportation network companies, a more formal name created by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2013 to describe companies that use an online platform to connect passengers with drivers who use their own cars.

2. How does this ride-share thing work?

Riders download a free smartphone app for either company that shows them where nearby drivers are and also takes payment. A rider taps a button to request a ride and then can watch via GPS as the car approaches. The rider is shown a picture of the driver and his or her car and can also see the rating other riders have given that driver. When in the car, the ride operates much like a taxi, except at the end, the passenger gets out without handing over cash. Instead, they are charged through the app and emailed a receipt. They then rate the driver and can leave a comment.

3. Are Lyft and Uber less expensive than cabs?

Both companies say their rates are up to 40 percent cheaper than cabs, depending on the city. Prices vary by location, but in Tampa, both companies charge the same rate. Each ride has a base charge of $1.25 plus a $1 trust and safety fee. The rate is calculated at $1.20 a mile and 13 cents a minute. According to documentation from Hillsborough County, "standard taxicabs shall charge no more than" $2 for the first one-fifth of a mile, 45 cents for each additional one-fifth of a mile and 30 cents for each minute of waiting time.

4. Why are Lyft and Uber drivers being ticketed in Hillsborough?

The Public Transportation Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles such as taxis and limousines, has issued about 50 tickets to Lyft and Uber drivers for operating without proper insurance and licensing. Because the drivers are getting paid to drive passengers, the PTC says they are providing a for-hire service and are subject to the county's laws. Lyft and Uber officials say they offer a separate service that does not fall under the jurisdiction of the PTC. They pay the fines for the drivers and continue to operate.

5. Is it illegal to ride with Lyft or Uber?

No, passengers cannot get tickets. While the drivers and companies can be cited, PTC executive director Kyle Cockream said investigators do not have the authority to institute any kind of penalty against the passenger.

6. If I'm a Lyft or Uber passenger and I'm in a car accident, am I covered by their insurance?

This is a major sticking point, and the answer is unclear. Lyft and Uber say their million-dollar policies cover passengers in accidents. The PTC says the insurance, which is a surplus line, is not valid in Florida. Recently the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation said Uber's policy provides legally binding coverage that meets state requirements. But they deferred to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles on several key points, including whether a surplus policy is acceptable. Highway Safety declined to comment on these concerns until there is a determination, likely from the state Legislature, as to whether Uber is operating as a for-hire vehicle.

7. Are the vehicles I'm riding in inspected?

Yes, but to varying degrees depending on the company and the city. Lyft requires all new drivers to meet with a Lyft mentor in their city. The mentor does a 19-point inspection that is mostly cosmetic, but also includes brakes, headlights and tires. In some cities, Lyft and Uber are requiring drivers to visit a third-party vendor, such as Pep Boys, to undergo a mechanical check.

8. Do the drivers go through background checks?

Yes, but local regulators say those background checks are not as stringent as they would like. Both Lyft and Uber use outside companies that screen drivers for violent crimes, sexual assaults, reckless driving, DUIs and other offenses. But because they do not do a Level II background check, which includes fingerprinting and the FBI database, the PTC says it does not meet its standards.

9. Is there a difference between the two companies?

On the surface, no. Both developed around the same time and connect riders and drivers through a smartphone app. Each tracks the ride with GPS and accepts payment in the app via credit card. Uber prides itself on offering a range of services, such as UberBlack (more like a limo), Uber XL (for groups of six people) and UberFresh, (a food delivery service). Lyft says its origin, based on ride-sharing in Zimbabwe, distinguishes it. The drivers are encouraged to be outgoing, invite passengers to sit in the front seat and greet them with a fist bump.

10. If I have strong opinions about Lyft and Uber, who should I contact?

The Public Transportation Commission is the local agency. State legislators, such as state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), tried to pass legislation regarding ride-sharing last session and will likely try again next spring.

Answers are aggregated from interviews with Public Transportation Commission executive director Kyle Cockream, PTC chairman Victor Crist, Lyft spokeswomen Chelsea Wilson and Paige Thelen and Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett. Contact Caitlin Johnston at or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.


  1. The Florida Department of Transportation is installing lights on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as part of a $15 million project. During tests this weekend, engineers will illuminate the bridge in a pink hue to commemorate breast cancer awareness month. Courtesy of Florida Department of Transportation
    The Florida Department of Transportation is lighting up the span this weekend to commemorate breast cancer awareness month.
  2. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is hoping to secure a $21.8 million federal grant to help pay for a bus rapid transit line connecting downtown St. Petersburg and the beaches. St. Petersburg City  Council approved an interlocal agreement Thursday supporting the project. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
    Pinellas transit officials hope the project will get a federal grant in 2020. However, St. Pete Beach and South Pasadena still oppose it.
  3. Yesterday• Business
    The Cross Bay Ferry, Provincetown III leaves the Vinoy Yacht Basin in January with passengers headed to Tampa. For departure times and fares for this season, which will go from Nov. 1 through April 30, check [SCOTT KEELER | Times] SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Now in its third year, the ferry will run Wednesdays through Sundays, with service for every Tampa Bay Lightning home game.
  4. Col. Jennifer Crossman smiles as Boomer, a 5-year-old dog, sits in the passenger seat of her car during the firefighter challenge at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. [Times (2016)] Tampa Bay Times
    Uber customers can now be connected with willing animal chauffeurs — for a fee.
  5. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times Pasco County's long-range transportation plan no longer includes a proposed sales tax increase.
    The federally required plan guides transportation needs and expenses through 2045.
  6. Ryan Cummings, 23, of Tampa, left, and Alex Frey, 25, also of Tampa, rent Spin electric scooters from a corral located along Zack Street Tuesday, May 28, 2019 in Tampa. Electric scooter companies Spin, Bird, Lime and Jump were being deployed within the next few weeks according to a tweet from the City of Tampa on Sunday. Campbell and Henigan spent a couple of hours Tuesday trying the electric scooters. Frey and his friend Ryan Cummings rented two scooters during their lunch break. "We are going to Armature Works, we couldn’t do that without these." said Frey. CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Plus the most bizarre incidents of electric scooter vandalism around the city.
  7. The traffic signal for eastbound traffic on Drew Street at McMullen-Booth Road in Clearwater. Image by Archive
    A reader wonders why the sign at the end of Bayside Bridge instructs trucks heading north to exit during specified hours rather than stay on the bridge.
  8. In this Feb. 23, 2015 photo, a car is hauled from a canal in West Palm Beach, Fla. The driver was taken to a local hospital where he died. Palm Beach County has over 300 miles of canals, built to move water. Since 1997, 181 people have drowned in vehicles that ended in canals. (Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post via AP) LANNIS WATERS  |  AP
    Of the nearly 1,100 people nationwide who died from 2013 to 2017 when vehicles went into water, 1 in 6 died in Florida.
  9. Dr. Daniel P. Greenwald, a well-known Tampa plastic surgeon, died on Oct. 5 when his twin-engine plane crashed soon after taking off from Kokomo Municipal Airport in Indiana. Greenwald family | Tim Bath/The Kokomo Tribune via AP
    An employee at the Kokomo Municipal Airport said Dr. Daniel P. Greenwald told him he wanted jet fuel for the Piper Aerostar. A friend says there’s no way he would have knowingly done so.
  10. Rekira Owens, a bus driver with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, greets officials from behind a newly installed shield as they board a bus Thursday in Tampa. The clear divider is meant to protect drivers from physical assaults after a driver was killed in Tampa this year. CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The two transit agencies took action after a Hillsborough driver was stabbed and killed by a rider earlier this year.