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City Committee Tries To Jumpstart Uber, Lyft Regulations In Jacksonville

Facebook group: Uber Jacksonville

Jacksonville officials are considering strong punishments for Uber and Lyft drivers who operate outside of company parameters.

A special committee is considering penalties that could make their way before the full Council.

Technically the city of Jacksonville has a moratorium on app-based ride services, where passengers use smartphones to hire contracted drivers. But the companies are still operating unabated because the city isn't enforcing the ban.

Checkered Taxi Cab Jacksonville Manager Brad Braddock says that’s a problem.

“The vehicle-for-hire industry has always been regulated, and part of that is the priority is public safety, and now these TNC [transportation network company] companies have come in, and they don't think they have to follow these regulations, and public safety is going out the window,” Braddock says.

He says cabbies are at a disadvantage because of city regulations like background checks, medallions required to operate, car inspections and insurance requirements. And he says unequal treatment is threatening his business.

But Jacksonville Uber driver Vladimir Kleynburg says taxi companies are just trying to protect a monopoly. He says it isn't Uber’s fault superior technology is leaving them in the dust.

“It’s obvious,” Kleynburg says. “They see the success, and they want a piece of it, but they’re not willing to change.”

Jacksonville City Council members want to stop drivers from operating under the table, or acting like taxi cabs instead of booking rides through their apps. The proposed penalty: impounding their cars.

Still, River City officials are holding off on crafting local legislation until they know how an attempt to standardize state regulations fares in Tallahassee.

The Florida Legislature has struggled for the last few years to agree on how to balance the concerns of established ride-for-hire companies and the so-called “gig economy.” House and Senate members haven’t been able to agree on how stringent to make background checks, vehicle inspection and insurance requirements for the new breed of drivers.  

This year, the House is considering a bill sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) that requires drivers register with the state and institutes more extensive background checks. But local governments his proposal because it also prevents them from passing additional ride-for-hire regulations.

The Senate version, sponsored by Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs) is vaguer and far less imposing on app-based drivers. It also doesn't include the language problematic for localities.

While Jacksonville officials wait on Tallahassee, they're also holding off on requiring taxi drivers to pay for medallion-renewal late fees.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.