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Hillsborough regulators ask judge to shut down Uber

Published Jul. 18, 2015

TAMPA — Rideshare company Uber could be forced to stop operating in Hillsborough County if a judge sides with local regulators after a hearing Friday.

Regulators quarreled with Uber representatives about background checks, insurance, safety and vehicle inspections. The arguments made in the temporary injunction hearing were the same issues that have dominated the discussion since the rideshare company started operating here in April 2014.

Circuit Judge Paul Huey did not issue a ruling Friday and will likely wait weeks to do so. He asked attorneys to submit any supplementary material by July 24.

The Public Transportation Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles in the county, does not have a similar lawsuit against competing rideshare company Lyft, which also operates in Hillsborough.

A successful injunction would require Uber to stop operating in Hillsborough but would not halt Lyft. If that were to happen, Uber would likely lose many of its drivers to Lyft, argued Uber Florida General Manager Matthew Gore.

"If we're even temporarily taken out of the market," Gore said, "it might be impossible to recover."

The hearing lasted all day and included testimony from Gore, PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream and an Uber driver.

Friday was the latest tussle in the ongoing battle between regulators and the rideshare company that includes fines, public hearings and legislative efforts to legalize rideshare companies statewide.

Uber uses a smartphone app to connect riders with nearby drivers who use their own vehicles. Fares are paid with a credit card through the app, which also allows drivers and riders to rate each other.

The PTC said the company doesn't adhere to the requirements that govern for-hire vehicles like taxis, such as thorough driver background checks, mechanical inspections on vehicles, proper insurance and permitting.

Uber argued that fingerprint background checks required by the PTC wouldn't work for the company, which relies on recruiting drivers who don't have to leave their homes to sign up. Requiring them to submit to in-person fingerprinting would be an unnecessary barrier, Gore said, would result in fewer drivers and weaken the service. It would also make their driver list a public record through the PTC, which competitors could use to recruit Uber's drivers.

"We spend a lot of time and effort getting drivers," Gore said. "If we lose those, it's costly."

Much discussion also centered on what would happen if Uber did comply with PTC rules and applied for the necessary permits. In the previous year, out of the 700 taxi permits issued, only 13 would have been available to rideshare companies.

Uber revealed in court that it has about 2,000 drivers in the Tampa Bay market. There wouldn't be enough taxi permits available to allow Uber to operate at its full capacity, Gore said.

Cockream argued that rules regarding permits could be changed to better accommodate the rideshare company if Uber was willing to come into compliance.

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Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.