Years of fighting between local governments, the Legislature and ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft could soon come to an end. Lawmakers have sent to Gov. Rick Scott legislation that would prohibit local government from regulating the companies. Instead, the companies would need to meet statewide insurance and background check standards only. The vote was unanimous in the House and nearly so in the Senate. “This strikes the right balance of regulation and making sure that there’s plenty of access for Floridians,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who has sponsored the legislation in the Senate for the last four years. Uber and Lyft have argued that being subjected to different rules in all 67 counties and more than 400 cities and towns made it hard to do business.
“We go from a patchwork of local regulations that were in conflict to each other to a statewide regime that provides harmony, stability and certainty for riders and drivers alike,” said Colin Tooze, spokesman for Uber. With the news of the law passing, Tooze refused to say what, if any, expansion Uber plans in the state. Scott’s office has not yet signaled whether he will sign it. Taxicab companies have fought against standardizing regulations statewide for ride-sharing companies they compete with, saying that they hold Uber and Lyft to different standards than other vehicles for hire. Historically, local governments have been allowed to regulate taxi and limo services. “Obviously we remain concerned about the lack of a level playing field,” said Yellow Cab Co. of Tampa owner Louis Minardi, who is also president of the taxicab trade group the Florida Taxicab Association. The bill’s passage Wednesday ends years of infighting among lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, where leaders were reluctant to preempt local governments on ride-sharing. This year, the taxis’ lobbying efforts fizzled. Opposition among legislators also was hard to find. The only no vote in either chamber was Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Asked by the Times/Herald if he would talk about his opposition Wednesday, he rushed off the Senate floor and said, gruffly: “No.” If signed by Scott, the law would require ride-sharing companies to have $1 million in insurance coverage whenever their drivers were engaged in a ride, as well as heightened requirements when logged into their smartphone apps but not driving a passenger. Additionally, there would be statewide standards for background checks. Brandes said it is also a step forward in what he views as the long-term future of transportation: a network of driverless cars run by ride-sharing companies. For Uber drivers, the move settles uncertainty in some jurisdictions, including Key West and Broward and Hillsborough counties, which at varying times in recent years banned Uber and Lyft or ticketed their drivers. Under the bill, regulation of ride-sharing would fall to the Florida Department of Financial Services. The bill will also pave the way for ride-sharing firms to capture more airport and cruise industry business. Airport and port authorities would be able to negotiate deals with ridesharing firms to charge pickup fees similar to those already paid by taxicab firms. Uber already does that in Miami and West Palm Beach where it pays $2.50 for every passenger its drivers pick up.

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