1. Transportation

Uber and Lyft still illegal in Hillsborough County after heated PTC meeting

PTC chairman Victor Crist addresses the audience Wednesday during a heated PTC meeting where his resignation was sought.
PTC chairman Victor Crist addresses the audience Wednesday during a heated PTC meeting where his resignation was sought.
Published May 12, 2016

TAMPA — Ridesharing is still illegal in Hillsborough County.

Hopes of a settlement in the long-running battle between the Public Transportation Commission and Uber and Lyft were dashed Wednesday after the PTC board balked at approving a temporary agreement that would allow Hillsborough County to regulate ridesharing.

The vote was taken after a contentious discussion about Victor Crist's leadership. Taxi and limousine companies and a PTC board member called for the Hillsborough County commissioner to be removed as chairman of the PTC, which regulates for-hire vehicles in the county.

"You want me to resign because I'm not your puppet," Crist told taxicab operators during a 10-minute defense of his leadership of the agency. "That is absurd."

The PTC and the rideshare industry have spent weeks hammering out a 15-month operating agreement that would settle the PTC's ongoing lawsuits against Uber and Lyft, which have operated in Hillsborough for two years in defiance of PTC rules and regulations.

In that time, the companies have not submitted to the background checks, fees and vehicle inspections required of taxis or limos. In response, PTC officers have ticketed rideshare drivers for operating illegally.

"We're 90 percent there," Crist said. "It is the last 10 percent that is the stumbling block with the board."

PTC board members insisted that negotiations continue with Uber and Lyft. The sticking points that still need to be resolved include fingerprint-based background checks, which are required for taxicab and limo drivers but opposed by the rideshare companies.

Under Crist's proposal, Uber and Lyft will pay a combined $375,000 per year to the PTC to cover the cost of enforcement. The rideshare firms also agreed to annual vehicle inspections, additional insurance coverage and Level I background checks.

Rideshare companies also want time to conduct the checks, with Lyft asking for 90 days to examine all its existing drivers and Uber requesting a six-week grace period for new and existing drivers.

The regulations negotiated by Crist also do not prevent Uber or Lyft from engaging in so-called price surging, when ride costs are quadrupled or more on busy nights such as New Year's Eve or Gasparilla.

Crist said the agreement represents compromise by both sides.

"After a year's worth of pushing, this was as far as we were able to get them," he said. "To say we're going to sit back and do nothing unless we get everything is simply unacceptable. It puts the public at risk longer."

The vote followed a highly charged portion of the meeting during which taxicab and rental limousine operators called for Crist to resign from the PTC. The companies say rideshare drivers should be subject to the same regulations and regulatory costs that they abide by.

They were joined by PTC board member David Pogorilich, a Temple Terrace City Council member, who made a motion for Crist to step down as chairman. He said Crist has made it clear in the past that he wants to get rid of the PTC itself.

"To, me it's akin to having Moses to lead us to the promised land knowing full well he's leading us to a cliff," he said.

The taxi industry has also asked the 2nd District Court of Appeal to remove Crist as chairman, but a decision is weeks away. Crist has said that he doesn't want to do away with the PTC, he just wants to change its governing structure.

No other board members voted with Pogorilich. The motion failed 5-1.

The vote on the settlement was held after a closed-door session. PTC board member Guido Maniscalco missed the vote when he left to attend Vice President Joe Biden's rally at the University of Tampa. He said he stayed for only the first minute of Biden's speech, then headed back to the PTC, but the meeting was already over.

"I figured as long as there was a quorum, it wasn't an issue," Maniscalco said.