Hillsborough County taxi inspectors have handed out hundreds of dollars in fines against drivers for Lyft and Uber, two car services that county official say are operating so-called pirate taxis in the area.
The dustup comes as two San Francisco-based “ride-sharing” services launched services in the wider Tampa area as part of their much wider national rollout. Although different in some ways, both Lyft and Uber are offering similar services here. Customers download a smartphone app, signal that they need a ride. Drivers sign up with either service, go through a background check, drive their own cars, pick up passengers, and then a back-end system handles the charges and tips.
That flies in the face of county rules, according to officials with the Public Transportation Commission, which inspects taxis, issues taxi licenses and enforces pre-determined rates for travel in the area. Though Lyft and Uber have their own insurance systems, PTC officials also question whether those policies are sufficient or comparable to those held by established taxi services.
PTC inspectors have been on the lookout for Lyft and Uber drivers for the past week, and after several days of not finding any drivers to catch in the act, they found some over the weekend. PTC officials issued fines against one Lyft driver and three Uber drivers, including $100 citations for “improper insurance,” $100 for not operating a properly permitted commercial vehicle, $100 for not having a “public vehicle” license and $500 for “operating a taxi service without a certificate.”
PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream said in one case, “the driver had a very old Ford Crown Victoria that was actually a retired taxi cab. The interior was in terrible shape, and it was very dirty. It was so bad that had it been a certified legitimate taxi, we would have written a citation for the lack of cleanliness.” Uber officials did not return calls seeking comment.
Such fines were to be expected, according to Lyft and Uber officials, who say they’ll reimburse drivers for any cost of the fines.
“We have received a report of one Lyft driver who has been cited,” said Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelen. “We responded immediately to provide support and we are also covering the cost of the citation and any necessary legal assistance. We will always stand behind our drivers as we work through challenges at the local level.”
On Tuesday, Lyft announced a new partnership with the insurance firm MetLife. Lyft’s current $1 million insurance policy and others are commercial insurance policies, but Thelen said the new MetLife project will focus on personal coverage for drivers and passengers.
Compared to the county, the City of Tampa has taken a much different stance. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been a staunch supporter of new kinds of ride services, including Lyft and Uber, and called the County’s PTC a hindrance to innovation.