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  1. Opinion

Ruth: Deal with HART could drive common sense into Uber feud

It has to royally rankle the oh so self-important Victor Crist to be taken so lightly by his arch nemesis, the ride-sharing company Uber.

As the chairman of the Public Transportation Commission, Crist rants. He raves. He pouts. He threatens Uber as an arrogant unregulated company that illegally operates in Hillsborough County. Uber essentially shrugs with a blase, "Yeah, well, whatever."

The Hillsborough County commissioner has accused Uber of being unresponsive to the PTC, uncooperative and little more than a bully. But it is hard to say if any of this is true, since Uber simply ignores the PTC and its fuming chairman.

Being treated as the Barney Fife of transportation has to be particularly galling to Crist, who requires an entourage when he walks the dog.

And in this battle of egos, there is no question Crist is right on the issues even as he lags in the political war with Uber.

For a company offering what is for all practical purposes a taxi service, Uber certainly ought to be subject to reasonable regulations governing background checks on drivers, the safety of vehicles and proper insurance coverage protecting passengers.

But while Crist battles in court to win an injunction against Uber to shut the service down, the company has been waging its own public relations war with a growing community outreach effort to win hearts and minds — and fares.

In recent months, Uber has created partnerships with a growing list of eateries and saloons, which are offering various discounts to customers who use the rideshare service. So far the list of Uber partners includes the tres swanky Epicurean Hotel, MacDintons, Yard of Ale, Drynk and several events such as Summer of Rum Festival. And let's face it, if you call yourself the Summer of Rum Festival, you can pretty much count on some tanked up patrons who would be better off in the back seat of an Uber vehicle than behind the wheel of their own car.

Consider the optics. On one side you have Uber forging business relationships with some of Tampa's more prominent bars, all in the name of curbing the scourge of drunk driving. And then there is the grumpy Crist going all clip-boardy on everyone by insisting Uber ought to follow the same rules as the city's cab companies.

In a move that might well have caused Crist to call up Uber for a ride to Drynk, there was the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority announcing it would be thrilled to explore a partnership with Uber to assist its riders getting to and from their ultimate destinations once they get off the bus.

HART is expected to ask for bids in October from the rideshare and cab companies to provide the shuttle service for customers. That creates the awkward scenario of Uber fighting one government agency in court while doing business with another one.

In a not so subtle jab at the PTC and Crist, HART CEO Katherine Eagan noted: "They [Uber] can cross wires with the PTC, but if they are meeting our rules, then they can bid."

If we assume Uber receives a contract from HART to provide shuttle services along with its numerous arrangements with giving drunks a ride home, the company might establish its bona fides as a good corporate citizen.

What better time in the midst of all this goodwill for Uber to resolve its regulatory feud with Crist and the PTC on terms most favorable to its own interests?

There must be an Uber app where one can order up common sense.

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