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Lawmakers Pass Ride-Hailing Bill; Jacksonville Councilman Rethinks Local Taxi Regulations

Facebook group: Uber Jacksonville

Update 4/21

After four years of fierce debate, Florida lawmakers this week passed state regulations for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

If Gov. Rick Scott signs the measure, all local regulations for the app-based transportation companies would be void.

One Jacksonville city councilman said the new law has him determined to level the playing field by deregulating traditional taxicabs, while another is hailing it as a victory.

Jacksonville City Councilman John Crescimbeni and Matt Schellenberg are on opposite sides of the debate over the competing interests of taxis and their high-tech cousins.

Schellenberg, a supporter of the app-based companies, is thrilled about the bill’s passage.

“This is great news for the citizens of Duval County, as well as the state of Florida,” he said.

The measure awaiting the governor’s signature is essentially the same as what Schellenberg has proposed on the local level — it requires Uber and Lyft drivers to carry regular car insurance off the clock and a $1 million insurance policy covering passengers. It also requires third-party background checks every three years.

Local governments are generally opposed to the state bill because it forbids additional or substitute regulations, but Schellenberg, who sits on the Florida League of Cities Board, said that’s not always a bad thing.

“(It) sometimes takes a bill that is universal to allow great businesses to exist,” he said.

Crescimbeni disagrees with taking away local control, but he isn't against looser restrictions as long as they apply to everyone.

“If it’s good enough for (transportation network companies) then it ought to be ... good enough for taxi cabs,” he said.

Crescimbeni wants to use the state bill as a model to deregulate taxis. Jacksonville, like most cities, has special requirements for cabs — like city-approved background checks, special operating licenses called medallions and more expansive insurance coverage.

The state law also won't prevent airports from signing exclusivity contracts with ride-hailing apps; Jacksonville International Airport just finished inking such a deal with Lyft Thursday.

Crescimbeni intends to file his taxi bill within the next month. Schellenberg says he's on board with the idea. 

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Schellenberg's reaction to Crescimbeni's bill. 

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.