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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014

Fresh Squeezed

A Florida Politics Blog

Made fresh, never frozen, here's the juice on local and state politics from the staff of The Tampa Tribune, The St. Petersburg Tribune and the Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau.

‘Uber amendment’ withdrawn – but still stirs discussion


Published:

It was withdrawn and never voted on, but a 119-word amendment to a Senate transportation bill caused nearly an hour’s worth of angst-ridden conversation on Wednesday.

That’s because the wording was friendly to app-based hired-car services like Uber and Lyft, which are trying to break into the Florida urban market.

Those start-ups say local authorities, captured by the taxi and limo lobby, are hamstringing their entry with outdated regulations.

The established limo and taxi services say they should play by the same rules as everyone else.

Uber now operates in Jacksonville but not in Miami, Tampa or Orlando, where it would like to.

Lobbyist Ron Book, who represents south Florida interests, even brought up actor Ashton Kutcher, who has invested in Uber.

Book criticized Kutcher’s comments about the company’s frustrations in Florida. Book doesn’t want the state to wrest away local control.

Kutcher appeared on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live last month.

“There’s some cities where there’s some bizarre, old, antiquated legislation that doesn’t allow (Uber) to exist there,” said Kutcher, of “That ‘70s Show” and “Two and a Half Men” fame.

“Basically, it’s like Mafioso, village mentality of ‘we’re not going to let the new guy come in,’” he said.

“In Miami, it doesn’t exist because of some dumb regulation … you have old-school monopolies and old-school governments that get kickbacks from various people that don’t want the new guy to come in.”

The idea behind Uber and Lyft is of a ‘peer-to-peer’ service. As the Tampa Tribune’s Rich Mullins explained it:

> The Lyft business model works this way: Drivers sign up to drive, pass a background check and make themselves available for passengers. People who need a ride fire up the Lyft app, find nearby Lyft drivers and sort through their profiles — almost like online dating. (Photos included, handily.)

> When a matchup seems right, Lyft alerts the driver to pick up the passenger, who is encouraged to sit up front, give a hearty fistbump and make it a social thing.

> All payments go through the Lyft app, so no cash changes hands in the car. You can’t miss the cars, either. Each Lyft driver gets a HUGE pink mustache to strap on the front of the car. Why pink? The founders originally envisioned Lyft as a women-friendly, safety-conscious car service. Things grew from there.

Wednesday’s amendment from Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would have preempted local regulation of “livery services” by forbidding them to set minimum or maximum fares, restrict wait times or dictate fares by zone.

The language excluded “metered taxi services that accept street hails.”

Transportation companies in Florida pointed out that Uber has “demand pricing,” meaning that a ride can cost considerably more at busy times and in bad weather.

Jennifer Green, Uber’s lobbyist, told the Senate Transportation committee that about 80,000 people have opened the Uber app in Florida but can’t get a ride unless they’re in Jacksonville.

Green even counted how many times Book brought up Uber: 11.

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