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Hillsborough commissioner rails against ridesharing nemesis Uber

TAMPA — Earlier this month, a judge pressed local regulators and Uber to work together and find a way for the rideshare company to operate legally in Hillsborough County.

That's not happening any time soon.

County Commissioner Victor Crist, who also serves as the chairman of Hillsborough's taxi-regulating Public Transportation Commission, railed against the company during Wednesday's commission meeting.

"Uber has refused over and over and over again to come to the table and talk to us," Crist told commissioners.

He also defended the PTC, which regulates the county's for-hire vehicles.

"Rest assured that the PTC has remained open-minded and objective, and we have been trying to sit down and work with the … ridesharing companies," Crist said. "To date, the only one that has been willing to sit down and talk with us is Lyft."

Crist's rant came two weeks after a circuit judge denied the PTC's request for a temporary injunction to halt Uber's operations. The court told both sides to sit down together and work things out.

"The Court encourages the parties to come to an understanding," Hillsborough Circuit Judge Paul Huey wrote in his Aug. 7 order.

But it doesn't look like that will happen any time soon.

"Since day one, we have tried to work in good faith with the PTC on modern, sensible ridesharing regulations," Uber spokesman Bill Gibbons said. "Each time we've attempted to engage with them and work constructively, we've been met with hostility and renewed and redoubled efforts to eliminate ridesharing in Hillsborough County."

Gibbons said the San Francisco company has offered potential solutions to the PTC and each time has either been met with hostility or silence.

Crist, meanwhile, maintains that the company refuses to engage in negotiations.

He also lashed out at Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who has spent years calling for the dissolution of the PTC, and did so once again on Facebook last week.

"(Uber's) attitude is they'll just take care of business at the state level," Crist said, "and it's quite annoying because every year just before session, some state legislator without thinking with their brain runs their mouth and makes statements that are false and misleading."

In attempts to show the PTC's willingness to move forward with new regulations, Crist outlined a potential new category for rideshares. But it will work, he said, only if Uber is willing to cooperate.

The category would have three requirements: annual vehicle inspections, proper insurance and level II background checks.

Uber is resistant to level II background checks, instead advocating for its own system, which does not require drivers to show up in person and get fingerprinted. The company instead uses a process that includes county, federal and multistate criminal background checks.

As for the insurance, Crist said Uber has refused to provide a copy of its insurance documents. It's a line Crist and PTC executive director Kyle Cockream have used repeatedly whenever they discuss the company's unwillingness to negotiate.

But Uber representatives, including Florida general manager Matthew Gore under oath during a hearing last month, said the company sent a copy to the PTC months ago.

Crist also asked the county to study its costs if the PTC is disbanded.

"As chairman of the PTC, I know that there's a significant fiscal impact," he said. "It would be an unfunded mandate, and we need to be ready to present that to the Legislature."

Times staff writer Steve Contorno contributed to this report. Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.

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