Uber bill moves on in state Senate


Although lots of folks have issues with the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission (PTC), Tampa area Democratic state Senator Arthenia Joyner apparently isn't one of them.

"Hillsborough County has a commission that has worked for years," she admonished Transportation Committee Chairman Jeff Brandes, who has been pushing legislation that would allow Uber, the car-sharing app company, to get a toehold in Tampa (as well as Miami and Orlando) during the current legislative session. She then "implored" him to consider "the county we both represent" and have his legislation workshopped before bringing it up for a vote in the entire Senate.

Brandes' proposal would do just three things — get rid of minimal fares in the state (which is $50 in Hillsborough County for luxury vehicles), do away a minimum time to rent such cars (an hour in Miami), and eliminate a cap on the number of livery vehicles a company can own.

Previous discussions in the state Legislature this spring that would Uber to operate in Tampa, Miami and Orlando have previously been dominated by critics of the idea. Those same representatives of the taxi cab and black car industries were back to denounce the proposal again at today's Senate Transportation Committee meeting, but this time a couple of Florida citizens who work for Uber in Jacksonville came to sing the praises of working for the global company.

"We’re providing premium service to the general public," said Rick Bryant, who created his own transportation company a few years ago and then offered his service to Uber when it became available in his city last year."I encourage you to bring this awesome technology to the rest of Florida." 

As in every other discussion on the bill in the Legislature this year, there were many people from the cab and limo industry bashing Uber and the legislature for carving out what appeared to be an exemption for one particular company. 

"There's been 18 commission meetings and two workshops that they've been told about, and neither Uber nor Mr. Brandes have been to our workshops to talk about the issue," fumed Lou Menardi, the owner of Yellow Cab in Tampa. Menardi has been amongst the fiercest critics of the proposal, and has been a strong defender of the PTC, whose regulation of cabs in the County has worked out well as far as he's concerned. "My opinion is, they need Florida, Florida doesn’t them," he said, but insisted that he'd welcome the company to the table.

The PTC is the only special district of its type in the state.

“We have a system in place instead of coming up to Tallahassee and seeking a preemption,” said Roger Chapin, executive vice president of public affairs for Mears Transportation, an Orlando-based limousine service. “There are a lot of questions that need to play out here.”

Chapin's presence was a breath of fresh air in terms of providing knowledge about the industry, said Brandon GOP state Senator Tom Lee, who added that too many of the previous hearings on the topic have been too rushed. He expressed some trepidation about the legislation, but said that with the industry changing so rapidly, it would beneficial for all if more discussions were held on the regulation of cabs and limos in Florida.

"I think we will see thousands of jobs created ... this is an important step to show that Florida is open for business when it comes to transportation," said Brandes in his concluding remarks. Several of his colleagues said they would vote yes today, but that they still had lots of questions about the bill as it advances before the full Senate. 

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