Florida Session Ends with Uber’s Preemption Efforts in the Doghouse

By Roger Chapin, Vice President with Mears Transportation Group

With the Florida State Legislature now adjourned, efforts to hold Transportation Network Companies accountable to the same standards as traditional taxicab companies will undoubtedly return to the local level. TNCs (or so-called peer-to-peer taxi services) like Uber and Lyft have, of course, resisted attempts by local municipalities to enforce basic permit requirements, background checks or even minimum insurance verification. Rather than working with local officials and regulators to resolve these issues, Uber hired a cabal of lobbyists and attempted to pass statewide legislation that would preempt local ordinances.

Statewide preemption laws remain the overarching strategy for Uber’s shortsighted public policy, with Wisconsin being the latest state where the company has succeeded in thwarting local control over requirements impacting passenger and driver safety. In Florida, Uber met stiffer resistance from local officials from across the state – many of whom were leery of assurances made by the TNCs after months of seeking (and failing) to reach any compromise with Uber or Lyft.

Uber pressed on, of course, and pushed for legislation that would give it free reign to operate across the state. Its only request was that it be allowed to self-regulate its operations – free from any oversight that might hamper its business model. When the legislative process became frustrating for Uber, the company took the unusual step of twice backing amendments that would defund public dollars for improvement projects and economic development in counties and municipalities that attempted to regulate TNCs. Even for Uber, these punitive measures were seen by many Statehouse insiders as crossing the line from brinkmanship to farcical. Later when the company was embarrassed by a House amendment offered by Rep. Kathleen Peters (R) requiring more stringent level II background checks for TNC drivers, Uber set its lobbyists on full alert to pressure House leaders to rescind the provision and help the $40 billion company save face.

The session ended last week with Uber claiming that at least its preemption bill had passed the House – which of course it hadn’t. After racking up a series of embarrassing losses, the company’s PR machine shifted to a partnership with Goodwill and a social media blitz around puppy deliveries. The company is also beseeching Floridians to lobby on its behalf, suggesting that lawmakers could create 100,000 jobs if they would simply let Uber operate carte blanche. (There’s no word from the company, however, how many jobs its proposed amendments to defund unfriendly municipalities would have cost the state.)

Now Uber is back to its modus operandi – threatening to pull operations from locales like Broward County that attempt to pass any requirements that might hinder unregulated expansion of TNCs. There’s little doubt these threats will continue until Uber has another chance for pushing statewide preemption in the Florida legislature. Unfortunately for the company, local and state officials are by now keenly aware of its antics and Uber has ended the legislative session with even fewer allies than when it started. The real question is, if the Legislature passes any law that deviates from Uber’s business model, will Uber follow the law then? I think we know the answer.

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