Thursday, July 3, 2014

The empire strikes back: Lou Minardi speaks out on Uber & Lyft in Tampa

Posted By on Thu, Jul 3, 2014 at 11:28 AM

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The ascendancy of ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber has taken a bit of hit recently. In Pittsburgh earlier this week both companies received an order to cease and desist by the state's Public Utility Commission, and in California, that state's PUC ordered those companies to stop driving or picking up riders at any airport in the state, or they could be shut down completely there as well.

So with all of the hassles he's had to endure since Uber first came to Tampa during the Republican National Convention two years ago, you'd think that Lou Minardi, President of Yellow Cab in Tampa, would also be rooting for regulators to find a way to shut down Uber and Lyft in Hillsborough County. But he says you'd be wrong.

"Not necessarily," Minardi told CL on Wednesday.

"Their platform can work with anyone," he says in particular about Uber. "They've elected not to do that. They could operate legally in Tampa tomorrow without a doubt," he maintains, but says that's not their M.O. "You're either going to do it their way or the highway."

As has been extensively reported, both ride-sharing services have been operating in Tampa (and St. Petersburg) for several months now, without being certified by the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission. PTC Commissioner Kyle Cockream says that his agency held a public workshop in May to discuss what Uber called a barrier to them entering the market — the $50 minimum fare for limousines.

That was for Uber Black. But UberX and Lyft have been operating without being certified by the PTC since April, resulting in fines for some of their drivers who've been cited by PTC agents.

In the battle over Uber, Minardi has been depicted as a veritable dinosaur, protecting the interests of the taxicab establishment against the new and exciting technologies presented by Uber and Lyft. In an op-ed published in today's Tampa Tribune, St. Petersburg-based state Senator Jeff Brandes writes, "Why should the Tampa Bay region’s transportation ecosystem be further stifled when new technologies are available that give both residents, visitors, and business travelers the options they have come to expect in first-class cities?"

But Minardi says that his and other companies have had app-based technology enabling a customer to request a ride via their smartphone since 2007."I (Yellow Cab) have an app, United Cab has an app, Clearwater Yellow Cab has an app. There are four national apps in Hillsborough County." He says the media in the Tampa Bay area have ignored this fact. 

"OK, I guess if I were to start breaking the laws and use y'all as my free messaging service I could," he says when asked why the outreach to the media has been so poor. "I've advertised on Bright House. I've advertised on Verizon. We've done everything that we can do locally to do that, but even with all the press that's been going on for the last year and a half, not one person has printed anything about any company having apps or local limousine companies or anything like that."

Brandes and Hillsborough County GOP Representative Jamie Grant have been the leaders in trying to change regulations to allow the companies to operate legally. Though Minardi has disagreed with the lawmakers at times during this process (to say the least), he says that going through the legal process is what needs to happen — not what the companies have been doing since April in the Bay area.

"We've tried to sit down with these guys ... and they don't want to meet with us," Minardi complains. "The rules are there. If you don't think they're good, let's change them. Come to our workshops and let's discuss [it] ... the system is a good system, believe it or not. If you look nationwide, we're considered one of the best in the country. But locally, everyone busts our chops because we've had issues," referring to the PTC's unsavory reputation based on scandals involving former leaders like Kevin White and Cesar Padilla. 

Minardi's gripes are similar to what other taxicab establishment figures have been saying for months. In some cases, it's been more than just verbally bashing Uber. Last week a caravan of taxi cab drivers in Washington D.C. left other commuters in gridlock by driving slowly and honking their horns in protest of the company, saying that they have an unfair advantage over regular cabs since they don’t have to follow the same rules and pay the same fees.

Last week Uber spokesperson Natalia Montalvo told CL that "we’ve had ongoing discussions with the Hillsborough PTC, but they’ve decided to protect an entrenched incumbent industry rather than serve in the best interest of consumers and drivers."

Lyft spokesperson Paige Thelan said, "we are always open with working with city leaders and working cooperatively to find a path forward."

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