PTC advances safety regulations for ride-sharing companies

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There were few empty seats at Wednesday's Public Transportation Commission meeting in Tampa, where a vote on proposed regulations of ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft advanced the two-year battle between the companies and the PTC.

Representatives for taxi drivers and companies say more rules for ride share drivers are necessary for safety. They say unregulated, the companies unfairly undercut taxi drivers. Rules for which the taxi lobby showed strong support included a $7 minimum fare and a minimum seven minute wait time applied to ride shares. Many argued those rules do not address public safety and unfairly target ride shares.

"They have nothing to do with safety and they were written by a local transportation company CEO with the express goal of forcing out two companies," commented Colin Tooze from Uber. "Uber will not operate under rules that if enforced look like the rules that were under consideration today."

Safety regulations with wider support would require ride-share drivers to undergo level two background checks and fingerprinting to increase rider safety. Also proposed were caps on price surging, at 10 times the regular fare, and no surges during an emergency situation. This would mainly impact Uber.

Before the vote, there was a 45-minute public comment period followed by the PTC asking attendees to stand or sit in support or opposition to the proposed rules. A majority of the crowd stood against the proposed rules.

The committee voted down: minimum fares and minimum wait times. They voted for: Fingerprint-based background checks, cars must be less than 10 years old, capping surge prices at 10-times the standard rate and no surge prices during emergencies.

But Wednesday's vote does not mean the issue is resolved. State rules require a public hearing for a final vote at the PTC's October 13 meeting.

Ride share giant Uber has threatened to pull out of Hillsborough County if regulations were pushed through. Uber suggested Wednesday it would still leave the Tampa market if the rules are passed. Meanwhile, the CEO of ride share company Fare said at Wednesday's meeting he was in support of the new rules and would expand his company's services to Hillsborough County in Uber pulls out.

"We've had over 4,000 fingerprint background checks done and the average time that it takes to get is back is 48 hours," Michael Leto, Fare CEO.

Lyft also opposes the fingerprint-based background checks.

"No screening process is 100-percent perfect. We think our process measures up well against the competition and involves checks of state local federal databases plus a sex offender registry and terrorism watch list," Tooze said.

Even after the October PTC meeting the ride share companies have several appeals options, so it could be months before a final decision is made.