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  1. Transportation

Tampa mayor blasts proposed regulations for Uber, Lyft

TAMPA — If Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was behind the wheel, the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission and its proposed rules for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft would be driven out of existence.

The regulations, which require extensive background checks for drivers among other measures, are "draconian" and the PTC a "dinosaur" that has "long outlived its usefulness," Buckhorn said at a news conference Monday.

Buckhorn stood with representatives from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and about a dozen Tampa-based businesses Monday, putting more pressure on PTC board members to vote down the proposed regulations at its next meeting Wednesday.

It's just the latest in more than two years of contentious legal battles between the agency, the only one of its kind in Florida, and the rideshare giants, which have threatened to leave Hillsborough County for good should these measures pass.

The PTC, which regulates all Hillsborough for-hire vehicles, has landed in Buckhorn's crosshairs before. He called for the state Legislature to disband it at a town hall meeting in 2013 when speakers said it forced Uber drivers to charge $50 minimum fares, like a limousine service, for rides from downtown to Ybor City during the Republican National Convention.

Now, under the new regulations, the agency would classify rideshare vehicles similarly to non-luxury limousines and impose regulations that would help taxicab companies compete. Rideshare drivers would be required to undergo fingerprint-based background checks and annual vehicle inspections, as well as wait a minimum of 7 minutes before picking up passengers and charge a minimum $7 fare.

"Ridesharing is all about having on-demand access. A seven-minute wait time won't work," said Lyft driver Blayn Chumblee, 27.

Forcing out Lyft and Uber would hurt Tampa's ability to attract new businesses, as well as millennials who don't want to own a car, said Christopher Emmanuel, director of infrastructure and governance policy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. In-person fingerprinting threatens the rideshare model, which allows users to join without ever leaving their home, and such background checks only show arrests and not actual convictions, opponents of the new measures said.

Yet G. Marcus Carter, president of startup rideshare company DriveSociety, said the new regulations, which he helped draft, simply ensures that passengers are getting into a safe vehicle.

"You'd get into a vehicle that has been inspected so it won't fall apart, has proper insurance, is driven by a guy who is who he says he is," Carter said.