The future of ride-sharing in Hillsborough County could be decided tomorrow with a crucial vote on new strict rules to regulate the companies. For two years, one of the sticking points in the debate has been over whether drivers should be fingerprinted.
Living and working in downtown Tampa, means Uber and Lyft are a way of life for Topher Morrison.
"It makes my life fundamentally easier. I've not owned a car in five years, and I don't ever want to have another one," Morrison said.
And when he takes a ride, Morrison says he feels completely safe.
"I feel way safer in an Uber car or Lyft car than I do in a taxi cab. I've been in harrowing tax cab rides, that frankly, scared the heck out of me," said Morrison.
But Hillsborough County's Public Transportation Commission is worried Uber and Lyft aren't doing enough to make sure their drivers are safe. Right now, the PTC is insisting on background checks with fingerprinting, something the ride-shares don't want to do.
"The safety of the rider is just as good the way Uber and Lyft are doing it. This argument is ridiculous and out of control," said Brian Chapman, CEO of MBI Worldwide.
Chapman's company runs background and fingerprint checks for companies nationwide. He says fingerprinting is really an old school screening, that's being phased out.
"Fingerprinting was really designed for identification purposes, not for background reports. Back in the 70s and 80s, we started using them for background reports because there was no other way to do it," Chapman said.
Now, technology does all the work, providing almost instant and in-depth reports.
"Uber and Lyft use a level one plus, which is consumer reports plus they search other databases including homeland security, terrorist watch lists, just hundreds of other databases all at once," said Chapman.
He says those are databases that fingerprint checks don't even use, and that fingerprint scans often give false alarms by pinging someone who may have been arrested but never convicted. And no check is fool proof.
"There's no perfect way to do it. You just have to do your best due diligence," Chapman said.
Chapman also says his company belongs to the two leading background check accrediting agencies, and neither of them have been consulted by the Hillsborough PTC about the difference in screenings. The PTC will vote on how to regulate Uber and Lyft, and check drivers, during its meeting Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, Florida state legislator Dana Young has sent a letter to the PTC, encouraging them to vote against the proposed regulations for ride-sharing companies. She also insists the state will pass comprehensive statewide legislation that will create an operating platform for the companies across Florida.
The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce also issued the following statement Tuesday about the ongoing rule-making debate:
"The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce supports a uniform framework on the regulation of transportation networking companies that protects the consumer, while providing competitive and innovative choices. The Chamber believes that the recent local restrictions that are being recommended are regressive and do not allow for fair competition. Regulation should not be implemented on a county-by-county basis but should be addressed by the state legislature and the same for all of Florida’s 67 counties."