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  1. Transportation

Limo company sues Hillsborough PTC for piece of rideshare market

TAMPA — The Public Transportation Commission hasn't yet voted whether to allow rideshare companies Uber and Lyft to operate legally in Hillsborough County, but one local limo firm is already crying foul.

West Coast Shuttle on Friday filed a lawsuit against the PTC, asking a circuit court judge to settle whether the agency that regulates for-hire vehicles also has authority over the smartphone-based ride services.

Behind its challenge is a concern that the proposed temporary operating agreement would apply only to Uber and Lyft, effectively freezing out rivals and thwarting West Coast's plans to offer a comparable service.

"The current temporary operating agreement would effectively create a monopoly for only Uber and Lyft to operate and would leave no room for anyone else," said Seth Mills, an attorney representing West Coast.

The proposal, negotiated by PTC Chairman Victor Crist, is intended to end two years of legal wrangling since the two ridesharing firms began operating in Hillsborough in 2014.

PTC inspectors have ticketed Uber and Lyft drivers for operating without the insurance and permits required for taxi drivers.

Uber and Lyft responded by suing the agency and asking the 2nd District Court of Appeal to overturn the tickets. They argued that rules drawn up for the taxicab industry should not apply to them.

The court has yet to rule, but approval of the new operating agreement this week would act as a mediated settlement to the cases, meaning there would still be no legal precedent establishing the agency's authority over ridesharing.

The agreement classifies ridesharing firms as "transportation network companies."

"It provides no clarity for all the other smaller TNCs that want to operate," Mills said.

West Coast is owned by Louis Minardi, who also owns Yellow Cab Co. of Tampa. He has been one of the principal leaders of taxicab owners who have called on the PTC to ticket Uber and Lyft drivers for operating illegally.

At least two other ridesharing firms have expressed an interest in operating in Hillsborough.

DriveSociety, a new Tampa startup, is waiting to begin operations. Fare, one of the companies that moved into the Austin, Texas, market after Uber and Lyft left, has also expressed interest in operating in Tampa.

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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