The ride-hailing app, Uber, has been operating in the state for the better part of 2014 despite statewide concerns over safety, insurance coverage and legality. While a patchwork of regulation has begun to develop on the local level, state lawmakers are eager to settle the issue once and for all.
The most valuable tech start up in the world does not want to be legally defined as a car service alongside taxis and limos.
Uber’s mobile app, and business model, is at the forefront of the ubiquitous "sharing economy,” one that lawmakers like Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) are attempting to regulate and define. He sponsored a regulation bill last year that failed to get through. Brandes says to ease the concerns of consumers, this year's legislation will place an emphasis on public safety.
“The 90 percent issue in the world of Uber is the issue of insurance, background checks and vehicle inspections. This is what our legislation focuses on,” says Brandes.
Background checks and driving records free of DUI‘s will be required for all potential drivers. The bill would standardize and increase auto insurance coverage for Uber drivers. But stops short of requiring the same type of insurance and regulations that as taxis and limos have.
Uber expanded its presence this past summer to cities throughout Florida, including Tallahassee -- drawing the ire of cab companies, county commissions and airports throughout the state. And Roger Chapin, spokesman for the Florida Taxicab Association, thinks regulating Uber in a category of its own is damaging to the taxi industry.
“When we're buying a commercial liability insurance policy, when we're getting permits, paying commercial lane fees, it's unsustainable, this business model. It's actually the worst-case scenario,” says Chapin.
Chapin refutes Brandes’ notion that Uber exists in any grey area. He says the company is blatantly defying state taxi codes.
"It's not intellectually honest. Uber refuses to be regulated and the taxi cab industry is caught in the middle."
Cities attempting to regulate ride-hailing services could see their efforts undermined should the proposal become law. The House version of the bill by Rep. Matt Gaetz, includes a preemption clause to override local regulations.
“I am generally not in favor of the state’s increasing approach at preemption, in preventing local governments to govern their communities in ways that are most fitting for that community and in line with the expectations of their public,” says Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
The City Commission recently introduced an ordinance to regulate ride-sharing services like any other car service, placing it under the city’s Taxi Administrator.
In a statement, Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett says, “categorizing Uber as a commercial carrier simply aligns us with existing taxi code which ignores ride-sharing’s innovative business model.”
The move could also affect other ride-share services like Lyft. And fans of the ever-growing sharing industry say regulation could also hinder other non-traditional services like the private home rental app Air B&B- which hotels despise.