By HANNAH FARROW
“Let me set the record straight,” said Kyle Cockream, executive director of Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission (HCPTC). “There are no rules that ban Uber or Lyft or any other TNC, transportation network company, from operating in Hillsborough county.”
According to Cockream, the message that Uber is getting kicked out is 100 percent from Uber themselves, tweeting out propaganda. Uber Florida (@Uber_Flordia) tweeted on Sept 8, “The PTC wants to push Uber out of Hillsborough. Take action now and RT to spread the word! http://t.uber.com/TAKEACTION #KeepUberInHillsborough.”
While Cockream says the HCPTC is not running Uber out of town, there is a meeting on Nov 9 to discuss a proposed Temporary Operating Agreement (TOA). The meeting scheduled on Oct 13 was cancelled.
“All we want Uber to do is conform to the county’s public safety laws, ”Cockream said. “A TOA would allow both Uber & Lyft to operate outside of our rules for a short period of time while new rules were proposed that more clearly defines their business model.”
Louis Minardi, the president of the Yellow Cab Company in Tampa, knows the vehicle for hire industry is evolving and agrees the people deserve to have a choice, but that the people should be safe to the county’s standards.
“Uber and Lyft simply flout the law, ignore local regulations and resort to threatening local cities and counties with leaving,” Minardi said.
As of now, the background check that Uber uses to hires its employees is a level one, which is an internet check. The HCPTC requires all for-hire vehicle drivers to undergo a level two security check, which means they need to get their fingerprints taken; this includes taxi drivers.
There are 31 places someone can go in Hillsborough county to get their fingerprints taken and the process is all digital, no more ink and paper, according to Cockream.
“The whole process of getting fingerprinted these days takes about, depending upon how busy the place is, anywhere from three to five minutes,” Cockream said.
Uber is not complying with the fingerprint law because of their business model, which relies on a quick turnover of employees. According to Cockream, Uber said they won’t make their employees pass the level two security check because it is a barrier to entry, mainly because most people won’t make the time to do it, therefore limiting the mass amounts of numbers applying every day.
Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO, said to CNN that the actual reason for not wanting to fingerprint their drivers is to give justice to people who have been unfairly found as criminals. Uber wants to give more people who have been arrested the opportunity to work as drivers.
“I’m not suggesting that a fingerprint would absolutely stop any crime from occurring,” Cockream, who was a police officer for 29 years, said, “but when people know they’ve got their fingerprints taken, that serves as some level of deterrent and a very, very important piece of evidence on that person should they commit a crime.
On Sept. 4, an Uber driver was arrested in St. Petersburg for peering into a window of female passengers who he had dropped off earlier that night. A witness called the police after they saw him tampering with a window of the women’s apartment.
Cockream referenced an incident in Orlando in June of this year when a young female was sexually assaulted by an Uber driver who was supposed to drive her home from the bar late at night, but instead dropped her off at a gas station.
The HCPTC doesn’t want to see that happen again, but Uber is willing to give up safety for a business model, according to Cockream.
While there are crimes that do occur, many Uber users still feel safe.
Nikki DeScenza, a senior advertising and public relations major, uses Uber when she knows she won’t be able to drive.
“When I’m going out to drink or when none of my friends are available and I need a ride somewhere, I rely on Uber,” DeScenza said. “I feel safe, too, whether I’m with someone else or by myself. Many of my Uber drivers have had a really approachable personality, making my experiences more comfortable and enjoyable.”
Uber’s website says since July 2012 there has been a 6.5 percent decrease in drunken driving crashes per month in California and a 10 percent decrease in DUI arrests in Seattle. Students like Nikki can see that same effect in Tampa. According to Bill Bales, a professor in the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, DUI arrests declined 22.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, which is the first full year Uber was in operation in Tampa, suggesting the company had a huge impact on the arrests.
“Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” Cockream said. “But your safety is important to us.”
The Minaret reached out to Uber but they failed to comment for this story.