TAMPA — Strict new operating regulations for rideshare firms such as Uber and Lyft cleared an important regulatory step Tuesday despite a threat from Uber that it may pull out of Hillsborough County if the proposal passes.
The controversial rules include a $7 minimum fare and a seven-minute minimum wait time for passengers. Rideshare firms also would have to conduct annual vehicle inspections and fingerprint-based background checks for drivers, a stipulation that led both Uber and Lyft to abandon the Austin, Texas, market in May.
A Public Transportation Commission rules committee voted 2-1 Tuesday to send the new regulations to the full PTC governing board on Sept. 14. The board can still amend the rules before a final vote.
If approved, the regulations would take effect this year after a public hearing likely in October and approval from a state ombudsman.
The move by the PTC to regulate rideshare is an attempt to end two years of legal battles with the rideshare market leaders. The PTC, which regulates for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough, has frequently ticketed Uber and Lyft drivers for operating without commercial insurance and permits required of taxicab and limousine drivers.
Both rideshare firms are suing the PTC and asking an appeals court to rule that the agency has no jurisdiction over their smartphone-based businesses.
The proposed regulations would formally put rideshare under PTC purview by creating a special category known as transportation network companies, or TNCs.
"Today's vote is just the latest example of the PTC's out-of-control, anti-Uber crusade," said Uber spokesman Javi Correoso. "We will continue to make the case for the modern regulatory framework for ridesharing that the people of Hillsborough County want and deserve."
PTC board member David Pogorilich, a Temple Terrace council member, said the agency needs to bring the rideshare dispute to a end.
"It's not directed at pushing Uber or Lyft out," he said. "It's providing a framework allowing any TNC to operate in Hillsborough while ensuring the safety of the traveling public."
The rules are a combination proposed by owners of taxicab and limousine rental firms and a local rideshare startup. They classify rideshare vehicles as similar to nonluxury limousines. Under PTC rules, those vehicles are required to follow a minimum wait time in order not to take business away from taxicab drivers.
State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, attended the rules committee meeting but did not speak. A supporter of ridesharing, Brandes said allowing a government agency to drive firms such as Uber and Lyft out of the market would be a national embarrassment for Tampa Bay.
He plans to file bills to regulate ridesharing statewide and to curb the PTC's authority in the next legislative session.
"I've moved beyond angry to simply being disappointed and sad for Hillsborough that this is the kind of leadership they have."
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at email@example.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.