Bill would allow Uber, Lyft to operate legally in Florida

Lyft car service, pirctured here, launched in Miami-Dade County in May, and UberX began operating in June.
Lyft car service, pirctured here, launched in Miami-Dade County in May, and UberX began operating in June. Miami Herald

Ride-share companies Uber and Lyft could operate legally in Florida if legislation filed this week passes this session, bringing an end to nearly a year of feuding with regulators in Tampa, Orlando and Miami.

Uber and Lyft have quarreled with regulators over whether they meet requirements for insurance, background checks and other safety issues. The Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission ordered a cease and desist and sought a court injunction against the two companies. Authorities in Miami-Dade impounded vehicles belonging to Lyft drivers, and Orlando passed regulation calling for a vehicle registration fee and a higher minimum fare for Uber and Lyft.

The ride-share companies, which use smartphone apps to connect riders with drivers who drive their own cars, started operating in Tampa in April. Almost immediately, PTC inspectors began issuing tickets, calling the services illegal.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would create the first statewide requirements for the companies and would likely supersede any regulations in place on a local level.

“We’ve entered this whole new world of transportation options, and the Legislature needs to get its arms around it and recognize that the safety of our residents and tourists are the No. 1 priority,” said Brandes.

“Folks, we’re not putting that genie back in the bottle,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a ride-for-hire supporter, said in his annual county address Thursday.

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said the company looks forward to working with Brandes and other legislators in establishing consistent statewide laws that would allow the company to operate.

“We support his framework that really does recognize ride-sharing as a new business model,” Bennett said. “This is a great step in that direction.”

As it stands now, the bill defines ride-share companies (which it refers to as transportation network companies) as entities that use a digital platform to connect riders with drivers. Drivers could only accept rides through the app and could not solicit street hails.

Background checks would need to be multistate and would rely on driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers. Proper insurance that provides at least $1 million in coverage would be required.

Brandes said he thinks the language of the bill will change before it is voted on as interested parties continue to share their ideas and input. One thing likely to be added, he said, is a section on enforcement mechanisms. Other jurisdictions have passed legislation related to ride-sharing only to have Uber and Lyft ignore the laws and continue to operate under their current methods.

“We’ve got to add teeth to this legislation,” Brandes said. “But you’ve got to start the conversation, and this is a bill we can do that with.”

Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei contributed to this story.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.

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