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Uber, Lyft Bill Fails As Legislative Session Closes

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Screenshot from Apple App Store

An effort in the Legislature to pass statewide regulations for app-based ridesharing services including Uber and Lyft is dead for this year.

As the legislative session ended Friday, weeks of acrimonious negotiations and public sparring among legislators, ridesharing companies and competitors in the taxi industry failed to produce agreement on a bill.

Without such a law, ridesharing networks have been operating in a legal gray area. Some counties have ordinances regulating them, but Hillsborough County has been ticketing drivers for failing to adhere to local regulations on taxis.

“Right now the citizens of Florida are at significant risk, massive risk” of having inadequate insurance coverage during ridesharing trips, said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

Negotiations stalled over insurance requirements for drivers and whether local governments would be allowed to pass their own regulations in addition to the state laws.

The House and Senate ridesharing backer Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, wanted to outlaw local government regulations. Senate leaders wanted to allow some local regulations and sought stricter insurance requirements. The House passed a bill, but the Senate never took a floor vote.

Simmons said the ridesharing services wanted to leave the state responsible for criminal background checks on drivers and ensuring the disabled have access to the services.

He said the companies are entitled to do business, “But they're not entitled to a free ride.”

The ridesharing services say excessive regulation will stifle a popular transportation alternative that helps prevent drunk driving and offers flexible employment.

The companies say their drivers are independent contractors who work on their own schedules, not employees. They said local regulations could vary from county to county, posing obstacles to drivers, and that taxi companies are trying to protect an unfair monopoly.

“Taxi special interests in the state of Florida ... don't want a free market because they are the fruit of a market that is controlled by local government,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

Late in the session, the ridesharing companies brought stacks of petitions from riders to the Capitol and recruited mayors and chambers of commerce for support.

They ran ads accusing legislators including Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, of being influenced by the taxi companies, a tactic Simmons called “totally inappropriate.”

He said the senators simply wanted adequate protection for passengers and access for the disabled.

Uber spokesman Colin Tooze defended the ad campaign.

“The Senate's had this bill for five weeks and they've had ample time to put it up for an up or down vote,” he said. “It looks like it's not on the level.”

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