What does Uber’s return to Broward mean for the future of TNCs in Florida?
Uber’s return comes in the wake of a 6-2 Oct. 13 vote by the Broward County Commission approving new rules for TNCs. The rules loosened significantly a number of onerous requirements that had forced the ridesharing service to pull out of Broward July 31. The final regulations allow TNCs to conduct their own third-party background checks, drop an earlier requirement that TNC drivers must submit to fingerprinting and would hold the services to state commercial insurance standards, rather than stricter standards that were proposed locally.
While 27 states have passed legislation to legalize and regulate ridesharing services, Florida remains the largest of the 23 states that have not. In the 2015 session, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and state Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, both introduced bills to clarify the insurance rules for TNCs. Grant’s bill also would have preempted city and county rules and reserved those powers to the state.
However, with the Legislature adjourning in June without taking action on those measures, the result has been a patchwork of local approaches. In Broward’s neighbor to the north — Palm Beach County, the state’s third-largest — a county commission vote on ridesharing rules that had been scheduled for late September was postponed indefinitely, with county commissioners saying they would wait until the state Legislature took up the issue in 2016.
In Hillsborough County – which includes Tampa and is the fourth-largest in the state – the Public Transportation Commission (created by the state Legislature and the only county agency of its sort in the state) has filed suits seeking to force Uber to cease-and-desist. However, in August, Circuit Judge Paul Huey denied the PTC’s request for an injunction, finding that it failed to meet its burden to show that Uber was violating the commission’s taxi regulations.
‘Because an Uber driver does not necessarily satisfy the definition of a ‘taxicab’ under the unambiguous language of the PTC’s ordinances, the Court declines to enter injunctive relief at this time,’ Huey wrote.
A separate suit pending before Huey asks that he declare the commission’s rules do apply to Uber. However, the PTC announced last week that it has halted all legal actions, as lawmakers and regulators look to broker a compromise. The commission also has agreed to stop ticketing Uber and Lyft drivers for violating local taxi regulations, a move that engendered significant anger from the taxi industry. More recently, the commission voted yesterday to cut permit fees for limos and taxis by 25 percent in 2016.
At the other end of the spectrum, and in a somewhat surprising move, Sarasota city commissioners earlier this month voted unanimously to scrap its existing taxi code altogether. Rules that for years had required drivers to get transport licenses, pass background checks and have their vehicles inspected were abolished.
There’s even signs the state’s largest county, Miami-Dade, may be leaning in that same direction. Mayor Carlos Giménez recently predicted the county would, by year’s end, wrap up work on a legislative framework that would legalize TNCs while deregulating taxis and compensating cab drivers for the lost value of the medallions that currently give them monopoly privileges in the market.
‘Demand is too great’ for the companies and their cellphone-based ride services, Giménez said. ‘You’re not going to put that genie back in the bottle.
‘I’m not going to drag Uber and Lyft back into the 20th century,’ he continued. ‘I think the taxi industry has to move into the 21st.’
There is no question that ridesharing has become a popular transportation option in Florida. Perhaps the best evidence for this are the very public attempts by the state’s two most high-profile political figures – U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush – to associate themselves with the industry while out on the presidential campaign trail.
Brandes, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, has vowed to reintroduce his measure in the 2016 session, with provisions that also would abolish the Hillsborough PTC. The final text isn’t yet available, but that sounds like a major step in the right direction. Smart, sensible rules that address basic insurance and public safety concerns, but that don’t artificially set rates, constrain competition or create unreasonable barriers to entry, should be adopted statewide.