Bay News 9
July 21, 2014
By Richard Mullins
The Tampa Tribune
May 10, 2014
TAMPA — A new, more-conciliatory phase may be opening up in the contentious fight between taxi regulators in Hillsborough County and the ride-sharing upstarts Lyft and Uber.
Officials with the Public Transportation Commission have begun talks with at least one of the ride-sharing companies to find a “middle ground” that could allow the unregulated car service to operate inside the law in Hillsborough County, according to the agency’s executive director, Kyle Cockream.
“We’re trying to work through some things, but this is not a short-term process,” Cockream said. He declined to identify which of the companies he was talking with most recently, but did confirm he has talked to Lyft officials about several matters, such as insurance coverage. There is a long list of factors involved, Cockream said, primarily because Lyft and Uber operate so differently from taxi and limousine companies.
Taxi companies must receive a license from the PTC, get their vehicles inspected, and their drivers must pass background checks and charge PTC-approved rates.
By contrast, Lyft and Uber operate as something between a taxi and a friend with a car. Drivers with Lyft or Uber go through that company’s background check. Customers with a Lyft or Uber app on their smartphone request rides, with the fees based on the company’s rates and paid through the app system. Lyft and Uber also position themselves as a type of social network where passengers and drivers sign up in part to meet new friends.
A starting point is working on a few easier factors, he said.
The cars in use would likely pass a PTC inspection, if drivers sought them, and Lyft has been seeking out more insurance that would cover the driver and passenger in an accident. Setting up a Florida-based background check system should also be straightforward, he said.
That’s not to say a solution is just around the corner.
First, Cockream said, he would need to negotiate a preliminary deal with the ride-sharing companies. Then, if those talks succeeded, he would need to bring the proposed deal to the PTC board, issue public notice of any potential board meeting on the issue, and then the PTC would have to formally act.
Officials with Lyft and Uber have said they look forward to working with local authorities, and they have a big booster in Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
Unfortunately for Lyft and Uber, the city has no formal role in day-to-day operations of the PTC, which was established by state law and operates under its own jurisdiction.
By Laura Kinsler
The Tampa Tribune
May 12, 2014
“The department was unable to reach an agreement with International Infrastructure Partners, LLC on a framework of financing and various design concepts for the corridor that would be acceptable to all parties and address the concerns of the local community,” he said in a statement issued over the weekend. “In absence of this framework, advancing this project would not make any sense.”
IIP had formed a consortium with Spanish construction firm, OHL Infrastructure, and was negotiating to lease FDOT right-of-way in the State Road 54/56 corridor for the 33-mile toll road. If approved, the $2 billion project would have been the state’s first private toll road and would have linked U.S. 19 and U.S. 301.
The project garnered widespread opposition throughout Pasco County, and support for it among local elected officials waned. The death-blow came during a May 1 meeting between the bidders and FDOT, when consortium members told Prasad they couldn’t finance the project without a significant public investment.
“When I heard we got to put money in, I was shut off,” he said. “If that’s the case, then it’s probably better to hit the reset button.”
Prasad vowed to continue working with officials from the region to address their transportation needs, but said future improvements to S.R. 54 will go through a traditional “bottom up” approach.
The department has more than $95 million over the next five years for improvements to S.R. 54. Later this year, the department will spent $18 million to widen the segment between the Suncoast Parkway to west of U.S. 41 to six lanes. The department also plans to widen the road between Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills - a $38 million project.
The county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization is still studying whether to include a four-lane elevated toll road on S.R. 54 as it goes through the yearlong process of Pasco’s Long Range Transportation Plan, which anticipates what traffic congestion will look like in the year 2040.
By Jim Turner
May 11, 2014
When lawmakers on Friday handed Gov. Rick Scott a $77.1 billion budget for 2014-15, it included $15.5 million to complete the Coast-to-Coast Connector, a bicycle and pedestrian path that includes both Lake and Sumter counties.
The project has been a priority for Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.
“This is an issue that the Senate has felt very, very strongly about the last couple of years,” Gardiner told House members Tuesday. “It means a lot to us and especially it means a lot to me personally.”
The money would be used to start filling in gaps in Central Florida between existing bicycle and pedestrian trials on both of Florida’s coasts.
The largest gap remaining a 30-mile stretch between the end of the Withlacoochee State Trail in northern Pasco County and the beginning of the South Lake Trail in South Lake County. Closing the gap would take the trail from Pasco County through eastern Hernando County, through Sumter County near Webster, and east through Lake County to Clermont, where the South Lake Trail continues east to Orlando and beyond.
The connector is to eventually link the Pinellas Trail in St. Petersburg with the Space Coast.
The 38.2-mile Pinellas Trail runs north from St. Petersburg through Gulfport, Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs. Pinellas County estimates that 70,000 people use the trail monthly and support at least 13 bicycle and rental shops located along the trail.
Connector proponents cite the economic benefits to communities that have bike trails, saying 75 percent of Florida’s tourists participate in nature-based activities during their visits. In addition to renting bikes to use these trails, tourists will naturally gravitate to restaurants, stores, shops and accommodations near the trails, supporters say.
Dale Allen, president of the Florida Greenways & Trails Foundation, said the trail will help draw eco-tourists year-round and dispel some of Florida’s image as not being bicycle and pedestrian friendly.
“It’s known in the tourist community that we’re dangerous state. This will help us change that dynamic,” Allen said. “This will give the state of Florida something major to advertise.”
DOT Office of Policy Planning Director Jim Wood said Thursday that while the trails provide strong recreational value, the DOT supports the connector and similar pedestrian proposals because of their role in transportation.
“Pinellas Trail, one of the most used trails in the country, roughly two-thirds of its use is for non-recreational use,” Wood said. “So it’s for people trying to get from place to place.”