It's not exactly a secret that Tampa Bay area state legislator Jamie Grant isn't a big fan of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission. In that respect he joins Mayor Bob Buckhorn and a number of other folks who think the agency is more trouble than it's worth — and that was the feeling well before the car-sharing service Uber tried to break into the Tampa market.
Despite the efforts of Grant and state Senator Jeff Brandes, legislation that would have paved the way for Uber to operate in Tampa (as well as Miami and Orlando) failed to get through the state legislature this year, but it hasn't stopped Uber at all — for a couple of months now the San Francisco-based company (along with another car sharing service, Lyft) has been operating in Tampa against the regulations of the PTC — specifically, its mandated $50 minimum fare for sedan services.
PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream last week called on members of the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office to begin helping the PTC by busting Uber and Lyft drivers they see operating in the city illegally. Neither law enforcement agency has said they will do yet.
"I wish that the PTC months ago would have been focused on more productive regulations that would help cultivate an innovative community here in Tampa than worrying about the ability to crack down on companies that they should have been embracing a year ago," Grant told CL on Monday.
Grant stressed that neither he nor Senator Brandes has ever argued that Uber should be operating under different rules than any other company. But having said that, "Unfortunately I think they have to be a little bit more assertive because they’re maybe not as well received by the industry that’s being regulated or protected."
There has been fierce pushback by officials in the taxicab industry, and last week saw cabbies themselves in major cities around the world protest against the company, claiming that Uber is dangerous and disruptive because of its questionable policies regarding insurance, licensing and regulation. But those protests may be backfiring; In London, Uber officials say that the protests there alone resulted in an 850 percent growth in the company's user base.
Representative Grant says that he wants to be known as a Republican who is pro-market, pro-innovation and pro-business, but not just pro "big business, and not just pro-established business."
"We ought to be supporting innovators who are trying to come up with more innovative ways," he says, noting how Uber has recently been valued at over $18 billion. "When Jeff (Brandes) and I filed our legislation, it was staggering at the time at $3.5 billion, so just from the time we filed the initial bill to today, the company has increased roughly six times in value by people who are putting money behind it, and the only reason that value continues to increase is that consumers all over the world continue to vote with their pocketbook and say 'we want this, this is the better service,' or 'this is the way that I’d like to get transportation."
"I don't think it’s government’s role to do anything beyond preserve the public safety," he adds.