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Saturday, Jul 26, 2014
Editorials

Editorial: Searching for common ground on for taxi services

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The standoff between the Public Transportation Commission and two upstart ride-sharing services needs to come to end.

Which is why we’re pleased the two sides are talking about a potential compromise that would allow the new companies to operate lawfully in Hillsborough County.

We just wish the conversations were happening between the companies and Hillsborough County’s government rather than the burdensome and unnecessary PTC, which narrowly survived an effort this legislative session to limit its authority.

Under the PTC’s current regulations, drivers for the two companies — Uber and Lyft — are subject to an $800 fine each time they accept a fare in the county. The legislatively created PTC, which regulates taxis, tow trucks, ambulances and other vehicles in the county and approves fare rates, has a stranglehold on which companies operate here and has shown a propensity to favor existing taxi and limousine services over new companies with innovative ideas and cheaper fares.

The PTC is being sued for requiring limousines and sedans to charge a minimum $50 fare, which is aimed at ensuring only taxis gets lower-fare business.

Uber and Lyft are growing ride-sharing companies that use social media to connect customers with drivers, who use their own cars. Fees are based on company prices and paid through an electronic app.

They operate successfully in other cities without oversight from an agency like the PTC, which has its own staff and governing board overseeing its operations.

The PTC licenses taxi companies. It requires vehicle inspections, driver background checks and adequate insurance. We have no issue with safety requirements and give Victor Crist, a county commissioner and PTC board chairman, credit for working to modernize the agency and bring the two sides to the table. “We just want to make sure they have the adequate consumer protections,” Crist says.

But the vehicles used by drivers for Uber and Lyft have proven to be safe in other jurisdictions, and the companies say they conduct background checks and provide adequate insurance. We think county government, not the PTC, could guarantee the necessary safeguards are in place while opening the market to more competition. That would be a boon for the consumer and the economy.

That won’t happen without a legislative measure being passed in Tallahassee, next year at the earliest. In the meantime, as long as the PTC exists in its current form, the agency and the companies should continue searching for a solution.

The PTC should adapt to market changes brought on by the technology being used to great advantage by the startups. Crist says he is pushing the agency in that direction and is looking to find common ground with Uber, Lyft and other companies that might want to enter the market.

While we still think the PTC is an unnecessary layer of government, some safety standards are justified, and we hope the two sides succeed in finding that common ground.

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