Florida Focus Sept. 29th, 2016

In this episode: Uber will pay $250,000 for a temporary license as part of their new agreement with Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission; Gabrielle Giffords led an anti-gun violence rally in St. Pete today; HRI Properties won a bidding war for an empty lot in downtown Tampa and plans on starting construction next year; Pinellas County Department of Health celebrates World Heart Day; Pinellas County firefighters exercise a way to rescue people from collapsed buildings.

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Hillsborough Gets Strict About Ridesharing

Hillsborough County has been cracking down on ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft ever since House Bill 509 did not pass in early March.

This bill was presented by Matt Gaetz hoping to provide regulations throughout the state. Florida lawmakers turned the bill down and refused to side with ridesharing companies.

In the last month, over thirty drivers were given citations from the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission. There were a total of four citations that cost up to $900. One of them included a $500 citation for operating a public vehicle without a certificate.

Drivers for Uber and Lyft are not only frightened, but upset that the state is not doing anything about this— drivers like Chauncey Ball.

“I think that the people that’s really sending citations to this new procedure of transportation should just look deeper into it, because a lot of people are scared of change,” Ball said. “This is just a new generational wave that a lot of people is (sic) not accepting at this time.”

Florida State Representative Matt Gaetz wanted to reassure drivers that “Help is on the way.”

Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft are paying for the citations given to drivers. They say they are standing by their drivers.

Uber Drivers Protest Gasparilla in Wake of Rate Cuts

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Uber drivers cruised down North Dale Mabry and turned off their apps during the afternoon hours of Gasparilla Pirate Festival.

Downtown Tampa was flooded with inebriated pirates celebrating the 101st Gasparilla Pirate Festival on Saturday. Almost all of them relied on Uber services to take them to where X marked the spot, the following bar on the map.

While Uber drivers searched Bayshore Boulevard picking up dressed up pirates, a separate group of Uber drivers gathered for a different cause.

Nearly 30 Uber drivers gathered on North Dale Mabry to protest the recent changes made to driving rates. Uber recently cut 20 percent off prices for Tampa drivers in an effort to reduce the “slump” they suffered in January, according to their website.

Messages such as “UberFail” and “Lower fare=higher surge” inscribed on their cars showed that these drivers were trying to send a message.

Uber originally started at $1.80 in the Tampa Bay area and has since dropped to 65 cents per mile. Brian Decker, 22, has been a six month Uber driver and said that drivers are not satisfied with the rate cuts and feel as if Uber is reaping the benefits.

“We chose Gasparilla to send this message because it’s one of the most important days for Uber drivers in Tampa,” Decker said. “Uber has constantly been cutting down the rate and leaving drivers with almost no reason to drive.”

The protest started at 2:30 p.m. which was expected to be Uber’s highest time of demand with increased prices. Uber recorded rates of 6.9 times the average rate during the afternoon of last years Gasparilla Pirate Festival.

Despite last years increased rates, drivers complained that this year’s rates were not nearly as close to what was expected.

“It’s pretty ridiculous quite honestly,” Decker said. “I wasn’t planning to drive today and I’ve seen that the surge is only around 1.5 and that’s not close to what Uber was saying.”

Despite certain Uber drivers not being satisfied with the expected surge rate, Gasparilla attendee Samantha Heffernan, 24,  said her price of travel was increased certainly from regular rates.

“I was told to enter a promo code that would take money off my Uber charge, but even with that I still had to pay 34 dollars,” Heffernan said. “The surge rate I saw was about 3.2 times the normal rate, so I’m pretty confident drivers made their money.”

Several companies such as Captain Morgan gave Uber users a promo code for which allowed users to get a ride for a discounted rate.

Uber has yet to address whether or not rates will increase for drivers, which according to Decker, will affect their numbers.

“Some people use this as their main job, others don’t. It doesn’t matter what your occupation is, 65 cents a mile is not going to work for anyone,” Decker said.