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Carlton: Will Tampa be The Town That Uber Forgot?

Boy, will I miss Uber.

Goodbye, chatty man who told me he started driving because retirement was boring. Goodbye, college kids and those driver guys who talked about their homelands in Ghana and in Syria on the way to the airport. Goodbye, Fred, who listened as I nervously practiced a speech in the backseat and gave me tips before he dropped me off.

Seriously: Could Uber really be outta here? Could our relatively recent ridesharing option — already bolstering Tampa's rep as a practically legit city — actually have a foot out the door?

Maybe, maybe not. Its fate could be determined by a vote today by the Public Transportation Commission — that infamously controversial agency that regulates Hillsborough County's vehicles for hire.

The PTC has been considering ridesharing regulations both reasonable and ridiculous. One proposal said Uber should not be allowed to pick you up any sooner than seven minutes out, even if the ride to your house takes only two. (On the eve of the big vote, the taxi association graciously said it was now "amenable" to removing that absurd seven-minute minimum.) Another rule says it can't charge you less than seven bucks. Which is positively un-American.

Should the rules pass as-is, intimations are that Uber could leave just as we're getting used to it. The company, as well as Lyft, beat feet out of Austin in the face of similar regulation related to fingerprint-based background checks for drivers — and seriously, how much hipper is Austin than we are?

Then again, Uber could be playing chicken. The just-launched UberEATS that delivers from local restaurants 24/7 is off to a mad-busy start, and would Uber kick off such an enterprise if it was ready to blow this town?

Still, rideshare fans are paying attention to the fate of this latest transportation option in a town with so few. Rideshares make a city look smart and innovative beyond a tired taxi industry. And public safety bonus: Uber, Lyft and their ilk are a boon to those who plan to have a cocktail or two while out and about.

When I Ubered to the airport last Friday, my driver was looking forward to a long night of carting people to and from Ybor City and SoHo. Didn't he mind the short fares? No, because there would be so many of them.

This week, Mayor Bob Buckhorn — clearly not wanting his city to be The Loser Town That Uber Forgot — stepped up to the podium at a news conference/rideshare pep rally, apologizing for being late because of traffic. In case you missed the point.

The PTC has long tussled with Uber over what rules should govern it, including important matters of insurance and inspections. Background checks remain a sticking point.

Uber has resisted the highest level that includes fingerprints, saying it puts minorities at a disadvantage and deters people from applying. In negotiations, Uber agreed to background checks that include sex offender and other criminal checks short of fingerprinting.

C'mon, Uber. Make us feel safe at the highest level here. We promise to show you the love back, plus tips.

And you, the much-maligned PTC? Find a way to work this out for the good of the city.

If you're wondering how much we care, note that Tampa City Council and PTC member Guido Maniscalco has gotten roughly 1,200 emails — compared to a couple dozen on the important issue of paying for critical improvements to prevent stormwater flooding (yawn). And a new drama: On the eve of the vote, 13 state lawmakers urged the PTC to reject the rules and stand down until next year's legislative session, when we can hope for reasonable statewide legislation.

But lose Uber? Let's just say backward is not a road we want to go down.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampabay.com.

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