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Carlton: Finally, Uber is legal. Now about that Public Transportation Commission...

Stephanie Smith, manager of Florida public policy at Uber, shakes hands with then-Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission chairman Victor Crist, right, after Crist announced a proposed settlement between the ridesharing company and the county during a new conference Sept. 29. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Stephanie Smith, manager of Florida public policy at Uber, shakes hands with then-Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission chairman Victor Crist, right, after Crist announced a proposed settlement between the ridesharing company and the county during a new conference Sept. 29. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Published Nov. 15, 2016

At last, Ubering around Hillsborough County is legal. Taking Lyft to dinner is officially kosher, too.

Wait — you didn't know it was illegal in the first place?

Maybe that's because even in a place painfully slow to embrace any meaningful milestone in transportation, a lot of us were already happily Ubering about. And doing so despite a bitter battle with that dated agency that regulates vehicles for hire.

Or maybe it's because we saw other cities embrace progressive options for getting around town without much ruckus.

Oh, but around here we do like our ruckus.

After months of lawsuits, accusations and acrimony, Hillsborough's Public Transportation Commission narrowly approved an agreement for the two rideshare companies that — for those who have not yet indulged — let passengers use a cellphone app to summon a driver-for-hire in his or her own car.

The hammered-out deal is good news for the public. It requires extra insurance, annual car inspections and no cars more than 10 years old.

But most important is the stickiest of sticking points that dragged this deal out:

How far to go on backgrounding drivers.

The agreement stops short of FBI-based fingerprint checks that the PTC wanted. It does require enhanced checks of state and federal records, sex offender databases and the most-wanted from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Interpol and the FBI.

For the record, Uber did not exactly show its fuzzy pink underbelly during negotiations. Fingerprint checks take too long and dissuade people from applying to drive, the company said, intimating it would leave town if this became mandatory. It's why Uber has pulled up stakes elsewhere.

But at last, we arrived at what looks to be a solid compromise through next year.

Now for the rest of the messiness to sort out.

Hillsborough Commissioner Victor Crist, an embattled former chairman of the PTC who negotiated the deal, added his voice to those in Tallahassee who would like to see this agency gone, kaput. And who better to voice that opinion than an elected official who has actually run the PTC bureaucracy, the only agency of its kind in Florida? Crist has said it's too slow to take up new ideas and too willing to give influence to competing cab and limo companies.

You could add: And too controversial.

Remember Commissioner Kevin White was serving on the PTC when he was caught trying to sell his influence for bribes from tow truck companies. Remember also campaign contributions the cab companies have sent to elected officials who serve on the board.

And who can forget recent revelations by the Times' Christopher O'Donnell that the PTC used actual taxi and limo staffers — as in, the anti-ridesharing competition — in sting operations that targeted Uber and Lyft drivers?

Yep, that's how we do it around here. And why eliminating the PTC and folding its duties into county government sounds like another pretty good deal.

So catching an Uber or Lyft is officially legal, a milestone in a place notoriously slow to get moving. For now at least, we can enjoy the ride.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampabay.com.

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