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Hillsborough regulators seek injunction to stop Uber, Lyft

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JULY 01: In this photo illustration, the new smart phone app 'Uber' logo is displayed on a mobile phone next to a taxi on July 1, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. Taxi drivers in main cities strike over unlicensed car-halling services. Drivers say that is a lack of regulation behind the new app. (Photo Illustration by David Ramos/Getty Images) 500166293
BARCELONA, SPAIN - JULY 01: In this photo illustration, the new smart phone app 'Uber' logo is displayed on a mobile phone next to a taxi on July 1, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. Taxi drivers in main cities strike over unlicensed car-halling services. Drivers say that is a lack of regulation behind the new app. (Photo Illustration by David Ramos/Getty Images) 500166293
Published Feb. 12, 2015

TAMPA — Even with threats and fines, Hillsborough County hasn't been able to get ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft off the streets.

Now it wants a judge to shut them down.

The county on Wednesday joined cities such as Las Vegas, Miami and Portland, Ore., in calling for the court system's support in the ongoing battle between regulators and ride-share companies.

Board members voted during Wednesday's Public Transportation Commission meeting to pursue injunctive relief against Uber and Lyft after both ride-share companies failed to comply with a cease-and-desist letter issued at the end of December.

The companies use smartphone apps that allow riders to summon nearby drivers who use their own cars. Both argue that they are technology companies, not transportation companies, and thus don't fall under the rules administered by the PTC.

Temple Terrace City Council member David Pogorilich made the motion, calling it the next logical step after neither company altered its operations following receipt of the cease-and-desist letter.

The difference with injunctive relief, executive director Kyle Cockream said, is that an injunction has the weight of a court order behind it.

"The only thing that has initiated any productive talks at all, from my research, from Portland to California, to here in Florida, has been a court order to say, 'Stop,' " Cockream said.

Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick opposed the motion, citing the possibility of additional court costs.

Uber spokeswoman Kaitlin Durkosh said the PTC was "engaging in extreme measures to protect the status quo" instead of supporting innovation and opportunity.

"The PTC's actions are deplorable, and intentionally seek to disrupt the lives of thousands of people who depend on our technology to make a living and move around safely," Durkosh said.

This is not the first legal option the commission has pursued against the ride-share companies, which regulators argue fall under their jurisdiction as providing for-hire vehicles.

A hearing officer ruled in favor of the commission last fall, fining Uber and saying its vehicles are largely functioning as taxicabs. Uber appealed the ruling, and the action is stalled in the 4th District Court of Appeal.

A similar hearing for Lyft takes place Monday morning, when the company will contest tickets it received from PTC investigators last year.

Investigators have also issued tickets ranging from $100 to $500 to nearly 100 drivers, Cockream said. But because Uber and Lyft offer to pay the citations for the drivers, it hasn't proved to be a strong deterrent.

Some jurisdictions, such as Miami, have impounded the drivers' vehicles, but the PTC has yet to take such actions.

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Leaders of the taxi industry celebrated quietly after the motion passed Wednesday, slapping each other on the back and whispering excited congratulations.

County Commissioner Ken Hagan said that although he thinks "there is no question this technology is the way of the future," something has to be done to force Uber and Lyft to cooperate and take part in negotiations.

"I, for one, am not going to tolerate just ignoring our laws and refusing to comply," Hagan said.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.