ST. PETERSBURG — For the final a number of months, the transfer to legalize rideshare providers like Uber and Lyft in the Sunshine City purred alongside easily, if slowly, particularly in comparison with the contentious two-yr battle in Hillsborough County.
Uber and Lyft at present maintain the higher hand in Hillsborough. After an extended fight with the county’s Public Transportation Commission, they will legally function by way of 2017. But legislators seem poised to dispose of the PTC altogether next yr. The company regulates Hillsborough’s for-rent automobiles like taxis, however by no means acquired Uber or Lyft to play by the identical guidelines.
That’s why ridesharing’s next battle could be in St. Petersburg in 2017.
The corporations might not comply with a measure that Mayor Rick Kriseman says will degree the enjoying area between the rideshares and taxi corporations.
The metropolis’s revamped car-for-rent ordinance, first mentioned in February 2015, has taken an uncommon twist: it satisfies neither the ridesharing companies nor the taxi cab corporations.
“It’s one of these intractable issues,” stated the mayor’s chief of employees, Kevin King.
The journey sharing corporations have objected to paying the town’s $65 per car enterprise tax, which taxi cab corporations have accomplished for years.
Instead, Uber, the dominant agency in the rideshare business, needs to pay a $5,000 annual charge for all its drivers. Kriseman hasn’t budged on the tax. The St. Petersburg City Council is poised to vote on the difficulty Thursday.
“Truthfully, it’s kind of a sticky wicket,” King stated. “We’re hopeful Uber (and Lyft) will come around to this ordinance. Our fear is that they won’t, the ordinance passes and police have no choice but to enforce the law.”
For Carol Vallee, proprietor of Bay Area Taxi Service, a St. Pete Beach firm based in 1981, stated the town ought to have been implementing its present car-for-rent ordinance in current years when the rideshare companies first began working in the town.
Taxi cab corporations have paid the tax and a $200 per automotive charge, she stated, and they needed to pay extra for business insurance coverage. Vallee stated that is given rideshare corporations an unfair benefit.
But she is not holding out a lot hope that council members will defeat the mayor’s proposal. Her prediction for Thursday’s vote: “They’re going to pass it unanimously.”
If that occurs, Uber consultant Cesar Fernandez stated the corporate will be pressured to make “a business decision.”
Would it pull out of the market because it did in Austin, Texas? Uber did so in May when the town demanded it permit its drivers to be fingerprinted. Background checks and fingerprints is likely one of the points that has lengthy divided the rideshare corporations and the Hillsborough PTC.
“We’ll react to that decision if and when it happens,” stated Fernandez, who was Kriseman’s marketing campaign supervisor when he was elected mayor in 2013.
Uber would like to barter a flat charge with St. Petersburg, Fernandez stated, prefer it’s accomplished with Tallahassee and Gainesville. Those cities get between $5,000 and $10,000 to permit rideshare corporations to function there.
In a press release, Lyft stated it was “optimistic” that the corporate could attain a cope with the town. “We’re continuing productive conversations with Council around the vehicle-for-hire ordinance, including discussions about possible fee structures,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison stated in an e mail.
St. Petersburg’s per car tax proposal does not match the corporate’s versatile enterprise mannequin, Fernandez stated, in which 70 % of drivers work lower than 10 hours every week and new drivers come on board always.
“We see it as an operational burden,” he stated.
A serious sticking level? Uber’s place is that the town’s enterprise tax code requires taxes to be paid by the variety of staff. The firm’s drivers aren’t instantly employed by Uber — they’re unbiased contractors. So rideshare corporations stated they do not owe any taxes.
City attorneys disagreed. They stated the town’s enterprise tax code has been streamlined in current years, however its intent stays clear: the tax applies per car — not by worker. The metropolis’s attorneys have tweaked the code to mirror that place. The council can also be scheduled to vote on that change on Thursday.
But Fernandez stated a part of the town’s repair — classifying unbiased contractors as staff — will not stand as much as authorized scrutiny: “I think they’re being a little too creative.”
Even if the council approves the ordinance, Vallee does not assume Uber or Lyft will comply.
How will the town implement the brand new ordinance, she requested, if they can not determine who’s an Uber driver? After all, the town will not require drivers to determine their automotive with “dressage” or logos figuring out the automotive as a rideshare car.
“There’s really no way to enforce this,” she stated.
The PTC employs sworn officers to implement its guidelines and ticket rideshare drivers in Hillsborough County, however Pinellas County has no such company.
King stated it might be troublesome for police to catch rideshare drivers, however officers would adapt.
“Like a lot of communities, they’ll just learn,” he stated, citing situations of rideshare drivers making an attempt to make use of taxi stands as one method to spot violators.
State lawmakers have stated they will search to cross a statewide regulation in 2017. That might have contributed to the ridesharing corporations reluctance to comply with the town’s plan, King stated.
“My fear is that the status quo is so beneficial to Uber and Lyft because they’re already here and would prefer state pass a (rideshare) friendly law,” he stated.
So the standoff continues. Who will blink first?
“The market has spoken in St. Pete,” King stated. “Everyone wants this option but we need them to give a little bit.”
Contact Charlie Frago at email@example.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.