Public safety won over private profits and political spin Wednesday as Hillsborough County took an initial step to regulate rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft. The regulations are the minimum the traveling public should expect, and they hardly pose a barrier for the rideshare industry as it competes with traditional taxi companies.
The new rules require rideshare vehicles to be adequately insured and subject to safety inspections, and for drivers to submit to fingerprint-based background checks. That levels the playing field with the taxicab industry, which has been subject to the same rules for years. The county's Public Transportation Commission, which voted 5-2 for the measure, did the right thing by focusing on public safety and putting aside the arm-twisting by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Rep. Dana Young of Tampa and other mostly Republican leaders who tried the sidetrack the issue.
The rules would better protect paying passengers and all those traveling on public roads, and they leave taxis and rideshare services free to compete on the basis of price, quality and customer service. The PTC also smartly removed two provisions from the plan that would have imposed minimum fares and wait times on rideshare services. These rules served no legitimate public purpose; they would have made rideshare less convenient for the sole sake of protecting the taxicabs' way of doing business.
Buckhorn, Young and other opponents opposed the rules, arguing they were in contrast to the rideshare business model and a burden that would drive these companies from the Tampa market. Rather than stand with an industry unwilling to play by reasonable rules, the mayor and other area elected leaders should have insisted on public safety as the price for doing business. While it would be better to regulate rideshare companies on a statewide basis, Young's request that the county leave it to the Legislature was a bad idea. Lawmakers have tried and failed for three years to regulate rideshare, and there is no reason for public safety to be left in limbo until the Legislature gets its act together. And while Young supports statewide regulation, she opposes fingerprinting rideshare drivers.
The PTC still needs to finalize the rules, and given the ongoing legal battle between the county and the industry, the issue will likely be resolved by the courts and the Legislature. Still, the PTC has reinforced the public obligations that come with doing business in Hillsborough, and it has given rideshare companies the clarity they need to operate legally in the market. This has nothing to do with squashing innovation and everything to do with protecting public safety. These are fair and reasonable terms for ending this overblown dispute, both here and across Florida.