Thursday, April 3, 2014

Senate discussion that could allow Uber to operate in Hillsborough County ends in confusion

Posted By on Thu, Apr 3, 2014 at 2:44 PM

click to enlarge Jeff Brandes
  • Jeff Brandes
St. Petersburg state Senator Jeff Brandes' proposal that could see Uber finally operating in Tampa ended in confusion and disarray this morning, when the clock ran out in the Senate Transportation Committee before anyone could vote on it.

Brandes and fellow Tampa Bay area Republican Representative Jamie Grant have been leading the charge in Tallahassee to to get the smartphone-powered ride-sharing company into Hillsborough County, whose Public Transportation Commission's $50 minimum fare requirement has been the deal-breaker for the San Francisco-based company. Uber has also faced resistance to entering the Miami market, where there is a $70 minimum fare requirement and a one-hour minimum wait time rule that has deterred them. They're also trying to get into the Orlando area; the company currently operates in Jacksonville.

This morning discussion on Brandes' amendment ended without a vote due to confusion. The committee had agreed for a time certain vote on his proposal by 10:29 a.m., leaving just over ten minutes for discussion on the hotly contested bill. As the moment arrived, Senator Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) called for a vote to extend the voting time. But the acting chair of the committee, Gwen Margolis (D-Miami) apparently misinterpreted that as a vote on the bill itself, and declared the meeting over. So now the bill is officially considered "T.P.'d," meaning temporarily deferred.

Margolis was in control because it was Senator Brandes' bill that was being discussed, and the rules dictate that the ranking member chairs the meeting. Brandes immediately took the microphone as committee members and people in the audience began murmuring about what exactly had just happened. He announced that the bill would come up again next week in his committee, with plenty of time for discussion. Currently, the Transportation Committee is not scheduled to meet, but Brandes said he would attempt to schedule such a meeting.

Before he can do that, however, the Senate Rules Committee must decide on whether or not the amendment is actually still alive, or was voted down in committee.

The legislation has been evolving since the beginning of the session. Brandes' original proposal would remove control of taxi cabs and limousines from local governments (like Hillsborough's Public Transportation Commission) and move it up to Tallahassee. But that idea hasn't gone down well, so the proposal has been amended to state that a so-called "special district" (like the PTC) cannot adopt any regulations which impose upon chauffeured drivers a minimal fare requirement or a minimum wait time requirement. It would also prohibit imposing a minimum number of licenses (as is the case in Miami) and cannot restrict travel across county lines. 

In other words, it will severely impact the Hillsborough County Public Transportation County's control. 

"It says the PTC cannot set minimum fares, cannot set minimum times, and cannot be uncompetitive," Brandes told CL this afternoon. "They have to accept the rules for how the players can compete, but they can't keep players out of the market, and unfortunately that's what they're doing today. They're keeping innovation out of the marketplace."

Before the discussion ended in such a bizarre fashion, Senator Greg Evers (R-Pensacola) introduced an amendment that would require anyone participating in a chauffeured-limousine service to have $1 million in insurance. That amendment appeared to be an answer to the criticism about Uber's insurance policy, which had been clouded in secrecy until it was leaked to the San Francisco Bay Guardian last month. Uber then released that policy online. 

Taxi cab companies in Tampa, Miami and Orlando are bitterly against the legislation. 

"I think my colleagues are a little bit amazed that we have this type of activity going in the state of Florida," Brandes said when asked the reaction he's received from his colleagues. 




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