Legal Guide

Is Uber and Lightning Partnership, Legal?

Anyone who has ever been to a sports stadium in the middle of a big city has likely found out that getting in and out of the area is not an easy endeavor. Tampa Bay Lightning fans are especially inconvenienced by the area's inability to house enough space for walkers, motorists, and cabs for hire. Not being to keep up with the high demand, management was looking for a reasonable way to overcome the madness before and after game-time.

Just as the new season was ramping up, Tampa announced that they had entered into a partnership with Uber, a rideshare app that allows individuals to turn their personal passenger car into a car for hire. The plan was to have dual lanes on the outside of the stadium that will be designated for Uber drivers after the game to transport fans, home.

A great idea for everyone, or is it? The Law Office of Peter Hsiao can confirm that the problem with the partnership is that, as of now, ridesharing in Hillsborough County is regarded illegal by the Public Transportation Commission. After a two-year battle with Lyft, ridesharing remains against the law around the Tampa stadium.

Since ridesharing drivers have refused to comply with the same standards in place for taxicab drivers, the PTC officers have no problem handing out tickets frequently to Uber and Lyft drivers. Those tickets typically fall within the $700 range for failure to have the correct permits and insurance.

So, is Lightning's announcement of the partnership, and setting aside a place for them to conduct business, their way of encouraging Uber drivers to drive illegally? With a critical vote coming up on November 9th of this year regarding future ridesharing in Hillsborough County, could there be peer pressure in the works?

At the heart of the debate is whether both Uber and Lyft will comply with background checks for drivers as required by the PTC. Or, whether the PTC will put aside the checks and revamp their requirements for ridesharing compliance. Lightning officials refused to comment on the partnership, or the legality of it, when questioned last week.

The partnership is a deal between more parties than just the Lightning and Uber. Other contributors are Amalie Oil Co, Dex Imaging, the Tampa Bay Times and other firms. A chief representative for the coalition, Bill Wickett, insists that Uber has assured everyone involved that they are following the laws and doing everything to ensure the safety of the fans.

The PTC is unhappy about the partnership for many reasons. The biggest is that they were not consulted about any deal and that it comes on the heels of such an important vote that aims to protect the safety of not just Lightning fans, but Floridians at large. Putting the PTC in a difficult place, they will either have to adhere to their strict fingerprinting policy or will have to find some compromise, which they feel may not protect the safety of the public.

The announced partnership may put pressure on Hillsborough officials to find a compromise. Uber and Lyft maintain that the PTC shouldn’t even have jurisdiction over their drivers and have already asked that the 2nd District Court of Appeals overturn the tickets that have been handed out since ridesharing began in 2014.

Tampa Lightning and Uber maintain that they are going to continue to operate until a resolution is met and a vote is taken. It is unclear whether the PTC will continue to hand out tickets or take more serious action to limit ridesharing outside the stadium.

The Uber lanes will only be operational during home games, for which, the traffic is typically handled by the Tampa Police Department. They have rarely enforced the PTC regulations and handed out tickets to ridesharing drivers. Outside of the Uber lanes, there is a designated taxicab lane just a few streets up.

The popularity of Uber and Lyft stem from public choice. Floridians and people across the nation are choosing to rideshare even with many challenges to the system and its legality. Likely, the PTC can’t stop the progress of technology or the will of the public. The vote on the 9th has everyone, especially fans who don’t want to wait in line for a ride for hours, looking to see which way the vote will go.

Sometimes you have to tamper public safety with convenience and reality. To date, there have been no high-profile cases of safety concerns with the rideshare app programs. They seem to be operating just fine the way they are.

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