TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After a four-year battle in Tallahassee, ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft can operate with just one set of regulations in Florida.
Before lawmakers passed House Bill 221 by a wide margin last week during Florida's legislative session, ride-sharing companies had a different set of rules and regulations based on where its drivers were working.
Miami-based Uber representative Javi Correoso said the bill’s passing is a win, not just for them, but for everyone who uses Uber in Central Florida.
"I think it opens up new opportunities," said Correoso. "I know that there are thousands and thousands of visitors who come through OIA to visit Central Florida theme parks and beaches, but they haven't had the transportation options available to them that other major cities, not just in the United States, but throughout the world have."
For example, the city of Orlando passed an ordinance in 2015 mandating a $250 registration fee for ride-sharing vehicles, which was something Uber was vocally opposed to.
"I think over the past four years, the cab industry has had allies at the local level and in the state legislature that would not allow for any competition," said Correoso.
In contrast, 40 other states passed statewide regulations for ride-sharing companies as soon as they grew in popularity.
So, after four years, what changed this session?
"New leadership in Tallahassee definitely opened the door for Florida to join the 40 other states that have ride-sharing regulations on their books," Correoso told News 6 anchor Justin Warmoth.
During last year's session, Warmoth traveled to the State Capitol and asked the question that many wanted answered.
The House passed the bill overwhelmingly, but it never even went to an up and down vote on the Senate side.
Word from state representatives was that former Senate President Andy Gardiner was blocking that bill from going to a vote because he's "buddy-buddy" with Mears Taxi president Paul Mears III.
"Uber puts much of the blame on this not happening on you," Warmoth told Gardiner during an exclusive interview last year. "They say you're blocking the bill. Are you blocking the bill?" Warmoth asked.
Gardiner dodged the question, responding, "There is a bill right now on the Senate floor by Senator Simmons to do exactly what we have consistently said we should do as a state. That doesn't sound like blocking."
"That's the past," Correoso said when asked about Gardiner.
He said they urged Gardiner’s thousands of constituents to urge him to allow a vote on the issue.
“He chose not to. Because of term limits, he's no longer in office and new leadership came into the State Senate,” Correoso said. “That new leadership was not just open, but they were also key allies in making this happen."
The bill is also raising questions about ride-sharing companies and their relationships with airports.
Many folks who travel through Orlando International take an Uber to the airport and often have to resort to a much more expensive taxi to get home.
Before this new legislation, Uber and Lyft were blocked from picking up passengers who land at OIA.
"The regulations would allow airports to charge a pick-up fee. It does not force ride-sharing companies to charge specific minimum fares, though, when it comes to miles or when it comes to time," said Correoso. "The fares may vary, but definitely the fact that the residents and the visitors will have additional options at the airport once an agreement is reached with the companies and the leadership at OIA, it will be welcome news for many."
Phil Brown, the executive director of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, said the following in a statement to News 6:
"The bill grants transportation network companies, like Uber, to operate at airports. Uber already operates at Orlando International with Uber Black. The bill grants the state the authority to do the background checks and preempts local agencies. Assuming Governor Scott signs the bill, effective July 1, 2017, UberX can pick up at airports, and can be charged pick-up fees consistent with taxis. It also allows airports to designate pick up and drop off, staging, and other similar operations. It recognizes the high-volume vehicle nature of airports, and grants the authority of the airport to identify areas for those functions. GOAA is in the process of evaluating ground transportation rules and regulations to accommodate the proposed new legislation. It is important that we remain flexible and adaptable to the potential changes in the ground transportation industry to provide opportunities to the traveling public."
The legislation, among other things, requires ride-sharing companies to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged into the app, but hasn't yet secured a passenger.
It also requires companies to run criminal background checks on drivers through local, state and federal databases, along with checking their driving histories and the sex offender registry.
If the governor signs the bill, which he tweeted he will, it will go into effect July 1.