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As Legislature Stalls, Jacksonville Officials Pick Up Pace In Passing Ride-For-Hire Regulations

Ryan Benk

The Florida Legislature failed to pass statewide regulations for ride-hiring companies like Uber. Now, the Jacksonville City Council is picking up where it left off.

But city officials are taking a far stricter approach.

Jacksonville’s Vehicle for Hire Committee began rolling again Tuesday after hitting the brakes to see what the state would do about app-based Uber and Lyft.

Contracted drivers, who use their personal cars, already have injury and accident insurance when passengers are aboard. But the Legislature proposed minimum insurance coverage for when drivers are in between passengers.

Councilman Matt Schellenberg agreed.

“I don’t have a problem, to be up front, to have a minimum that someone has, and, to compare that to a taxi, when he’s just driving around doing his own thing as a college student,” Schellenberg said. “But when he applies and puts that app on, he gets a million dollars. That’s what they’re saying and that’s substantially more than the taxis.”

Under the Legislature’s proposal, Uber and Lyft drivers would have been required to have $150,000 in personal and accident insurance. That rate would jump to $1 million when the driver is carrying passengers.

And the insurance issue becomes more complicated when considering so-called “rogue drivers,” those who pick up passengers who didn’t request them through the app, Councilman Bill Gulliford said.

“In effect, that driver is committing fraud by virtue of picking that passenger and representing themselves as being an Uber driver,” he said. “The passenger doesn’t know that they’re not doing it legally, do they?”

Instead of trying to penalize the companies for misconduct, the committee proposes going after drivers with stiffer fines and granting greater enforcement power for police, including booting and towing cars.

Before the two-hour meeting concluded, council members also took up the issue of background checks for drivers.

Taxi companies echoed the same safety concerns that prompted statewide debate over the past few years, saying its background checks were more rigorous because it's mandated and conducted by the city’s risk management department. These background checks help certify cabbies and get them a city medallion.

Lobbyists for the ride-for-hire companies pushed back against taxi claims their checks aren't tough enough by pointing to the fact that third party companies conduct state and national screening of their potential driver’s history.

In addition to claims that Uber and Lyft background checks are less thorough, taxi representatives said requiring tighter safety regulations on cab companies puts them at a disadvantage.

Councilman Crescimbeni seeks to remedy that by allowing cab companies to conduct their own background checks like transportation network companies.

Crescimbeni and his colleagues said that could level the playing field so long as both types of companies are required to keep detailed records and can be regularly audited by city officials.

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, committee members also extended a moratorium on medallion requirements for taxi companies until a compromise can be reached on a city ordinance.

Discussion is scheduled to continue at the committee's next meeting. The date of the meeting has not been announced.

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.