Buckhorn, Florida chamber urge PTC to keep Uber, Lyft in Hillsborough

As the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission prepares to vote on strict ridesharing regulations Wednesday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn urged the PTC to vote down the proposed regulations that Uber and Lyft representatives say could push them out of the area.

Buckhorn emphasized that regulating the ridesharing industry would limit competition for taxi firms and limousine companies, which he said would be a bad thing during a press conference in downtown Tampa at The Attic Café Monday.

“Competition is a good thing. If you can't compete, you don't deserve to be protected. If you can't compete, you're going to die. That's the nature of the capitalist system,” said Buckhorn. “All we're asking for is the opportunity for these ridesharing companies to compete... If there wasn't a demand for Uber or Lyft, they wouldn't survive either. There clearly is a demand.”

The new regulations under consideration are a $7 minimum fare, a 7-minute minimum wait time for passengers, fingerprint-based background checks and annual vehicle inspections. PTC board members said that the rules are meant to ensure the safety of riders and drivers.

But representatives for Uber are calling this rubbish, stating that such strict regulations could push Uber out of Hillsborough County.

“This is an extreme proposal that's being pushed by the Public Transportation Commission here in Hillsborough County specifically designed to push Uber and other ridesharing companies out of the market. It's not about public safety,” said Cesar Fernandez, a representative for Uber in Florida.

When asked if Uber would actually leave Hillsborough County if the regulations are passed, Fernandez said that they are not taking the situation lightly and that it’s a business decision “we’ll weigh very seriously.”

This wouldn’t be the first time that ridesharing regulations would drive Uber and Lyft out of a city. In Austin, Texas earlier this year, voters passed a referendum mandating full Level II background checks. Uber and Lyft ceased operations in Austin shortly after the government regulations were passed.

“I don't want to be mentioned in the same sentence with Austin, Texas as a place that turned away technology, turned away innovation, turned away opportunity and was more intent on protecting one industry that has outlived its usefulness in its current state,” Buckhorn said.

Buckhorn also stressed that it would be “absurd” for Uber and Lyft to be illegal in Hillsborough County, but legal in its neighboring counties.

“There's no point in having one county with a different set of regulations for ridesharing,” said Buckhorn. “That's why those of us who support ridesharing want these things passed at a state level. Let it be uniform across all 67 counties.”

Buckhorn was surrounded by more than a dozen Tampa Bay business leaders, entrepreneurs and residents who see the importance of keeping Uber and Lyft in the Tampa Bay area.

“The whole country took note when Austin took its draconian legislation. We must learn from the mistakes of others,” said Christopher Emmanuel, director of infrastructure and governance policy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “We ask that the PTC suspend consideration of this extreme rule and work with the new businesses and responsible partners that are hoping to bring transportation solutions for Florida and Tampa's future.”

“Uber has put thousands of people to work, including myself,” said Maria Thomas, an Uber driver partner who relies on Uber to pay for her son’s weekly tuition costs. “Currently, I do not make enough in order to help support my family.”

The PTC is expected to make a decision on the ridesharing regulations Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. at the County Center. 

“The consumers are going to drive this decision. It's not going to be me,” Buckhorn said. “If the consumer is voting with their feet, their revenue and their choices, that tells you right there that any other industry in this space needs to up their game."

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