TAMPA — The future of rideshare in Hillsborough County is once again in doubt after the Public Transportation Commission on Wednesday suspended talks intended to resolve its legal battle with Uber and Lyft.
The move came after the PTC board again rejected a provisional deal to allow rideshare firms to operate legally in Hillsborough County. The 4-1 vote was a setback for PTC Chairman Victor Crist who, along with PTC staff, spent about seven weeks negotiating with Uber and Lyft officials.
Instead, board members said they want to wait for a ruling from the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland on a case that could determine whether the county agency has the authority to regulate rideshare drivers.
The main sticking point for board members is Uber and Lyft's refusal to conduct a fingerprint-based background check that Hillsborough taxicab and limousine drivers are required to undergo. The same issue led the companies to halt operations in Austin last month.
There also was concern that rideshare firms want new drivers to get a 42-day grace period to comply with any new regulations. Uber officials said that would apply only to vehicle inspections.
"We cannot get into the business of people who want to operate in this county dictating to us what they want to do," said board member Frank Reddick, who is a member of the Tampa City Council.
Crist said the deal would at least provide some regulation for the two firms that have been operating in Hillsborough County since 2014. Under the proposal, the companies would conduct a nationwide background check of drivers that goes back seven years.
The public has clearly shown they want the convenience of rideshare, Crist said. Blocking that will provide more ammunition to state lawmakers who want to abolish the PTC, the Hillsborough County commissioner warned.
"I believe wholeheartedly the Legislature is going to see us as obstructionist and they will shut this agency down because of our failure to listen and to act," Crist said.
At times the interaction between Crist and the other board members got testy. In response to Crist's comment that not approving a deal was putting the public at risk, Temple Terrace Councilman David Pogorilich said it was Uber and Lyft that were putting the public at risk.
Crist also bristled at a comment from Reddick who said it was irresponsible to not require full background checks.
"I have every right to defend myself," Crist said. "I am the only one siting at this table who has been a lawmaker for 26 years. I am not speaking as an amateur."
The hearing before the 2nd DCA is scheduled for June 22. Attorneys from Uber are appealing citations issued by PTC officers to rideshare drivers for operating illegally.
It may be weeks or months before the 3-judge panel issues its ruling. In the meantime, the PTC will continue ticketing ride share drivers who lack insurance and permits.
Uber and Lyft officials have repeatedly said they should not be governed by the same rules as taxicab firms. But the firms have agreed to some regulation in more than 30 communities, including Miami and Tallahassee.
Stephanie Smith, a public policy manager for Uber Technology, said her firm is open to resuming talks.
"Unfortunately, it sounds like the negotiations have stopped," Smith said. "We're disappointed."
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times