TAMPA (FOX 13) - The Tampa Bay Lighting has a new name to add to its roster: Uber. The team just announced a brand new partnership with the ride sharing service, just in time for the start of the official season.
"We've had a couple short summers, which is a good thing, right?" joked former Lightning Captain Dave Andreychuk. "From the way it ended the last couple of years, these guys want to get back at it right away."
Andreychuk, Thunderbug and the Lightning Girls took the first official ride Wednesday afternoon. The car pulled up in the dedicated Uber lanes on Channelside Drive between South Florida and South Morgan Streets. During games and concerts, fans can be dropped off and picked up there.
"This is going to be a great partnership that improves transportation options for fans coming to and from the arena for all events and gives Lightning fans a safe and reliable trip in and out of the arena on game nights," said Uber spokesperson Javi Correoso.
"When the fans come out after a win, you know Uber drivers will be happy," said Uber driver Gregory Morgan.
Though it's a win for fans and drivers, the service still hasn't gotten the blessing of the Public Transportation Commission. There's been a long legal battle between the PTC and ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.
The PTC maintains the companies don't follow the same insurance and permitting restrictions as cabs and limousines. Some Uber and Lyft driver have even been hit with $700 fines when caught but PTC officers.
There's light at the end of the tunnel. Uber and Lyft have tentatively agreed on tougher background checks though not on fingerprinting. The Commission will vote on a temporary operating agreement on November 9th. Until then, the PTC still considers them to be operating illegally.
"We don't feel the PTC has the authority to regulate ride sharing. Fans want and have asked and now we have given them transportation options to and from the arena," said Correoso.
PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream said, "We're working hard to find a way to bring Uber into compliance with the law in Hillsborough County, and we look forward to getting a solution to the issues with Uber and Lyft. We want Lightning fans and everyone in the county to have a wide range of safe transportation options."
Though the Lightning didn't want to get into the politics of the matter, the partnership alone is a big statement.
Lightning CEO Steve Griggs said, "As we look to transform the land surrounding Amalie Arena over the next several years, we feel it is important to team up with a partner like Uber to maintain the world-class fan experience that our guests have come to expect for their commute to our events. In fact, our hockey fans and concert guests are strongly asking for this service. We envision Uber playing a key role along with other alternative transportation methods to move our guests quickly to and from the arena."
Uber rider Mitchell Young has already seen one win at a Lightning preseason game. With this Uber partnership, he sees it as one of many more wins to come.
"I think it's a good message in a sense that it will make the fan base even bigger," Mitchell said. "It's going to help fans get to the games a lot easier and safer. So, I think it's a good thing."