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  1. Transportation

Regulations stall for Hillsborough rideshare firms, but higher fines in the works

TAMPA — A proposal for new regulations to govern rideshare firms like Uber and Lyft hit a dead end Tuesday, but the Public Transportation Commission is moving ahead with plans to raise the fines for rideshare drivers.

A PTC rules committee on Tuesday passed on moving forward with new emergency regulations in a meeting that epitomized the gridlock over ridesharing that exists in Hillsborough County.

The proposed rules would have made background checks and commercial insurance mandatory for drivers, while also establishing a minimum wait time for fare pickups.

They were drawn up by Drive Society, a new rideshare startup based in Tampa, but opposed by Uber and Lyft, which have operated in Hillsborough since 2014. The emergency classification would have meant the regulations could have taken effect within 30 days of being approved by the full PTC board.

An attorney for Lyft warned Tuesday that the firm would challenge the rules in appellate court. Under state law, the PTC can adopt emergency rules only if the safety and welfare of the traveling public are at risk.

"My analysis is that you will lose this," said Lyft attorney Steve Anderson. "Where is the overwhelming evidence that there are criminals driving?"

Drive Society CEO Marcus Carter cited the recent arrest of an Uber driver in Miami who police say used his car to deliver cocaine as proof that the public is at risk.

"Does someone have to be murdered or raped or sexually assaulted for us to say it's an emergency now?" Carter said.

The PTC, which regulates for-hire vehicles such as taxicabs and limousines in Hillsborough County, has ticketed Uber and Lyft drivers for not carrying commercial insurance and operating as a taxicab without a permit.

An appeals court is expected to rule in a case brought by Uber on whether the agency has the authority to regulate rideshare firms.

The new fines would raise the penalty for drivers from $700 to $900. The rideshare firm would also be fined $400 for allowing the operation of a vehicle without a permit, a $200 increase.

That proposal will go before the full PTC board on Aug. 10 but is expected to be challenged by Uber or Lyft drivers, meaning another public hearing would be required before it can be adopted.

Tuesday's meeting ended abruptly. Temple Terrace council member David Pogorilich stepped out to take a lengthy phone call, which left Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco as the only one of the three committee members present. Hillsborough County Commissioner and PTC chairman Victor Crist missed the meeting.

After an attorney for Lyft complained about the legality of continuing without a quorum, the meeting was adjourned with discussion to resume on Aug. 16.

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

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