Tampa council supports Public Transportation Commission
TAMPA – State Sen. Ronda Storms wants to kill the Public Transportation Commission, but a majority of Tampa City Council members say it should be spared.
The council voted 5-1 late Thursday night to send a letter to the county’s legislative delegation expressing its support for the commission. Council member Mary Mulhern voted no. Council member Joseph Caetano was not present.
Created by state law, the Public Transportation Commission is the only agency of its kind in Florida. It regulates taxis, limos, ambulances, tow trucks, transportation for the handicapped and other vehicles for hire – work that Storms says county staff could handle more cheaply and professionally.
Council member Curtis Stokes said he brought up the matter because commission now does “a great job.” The commission does not cost taxpayers any money, he said, as it is self-funded through fees paid by the companies it regulates.
“There’s no reason to try to abolish it,” Stokes said Friday. With the Republican National Convention coming to town in 2012, “we need an agency like that” to make sure cabs are clean and cabbies represent the city well and do not overcharge out-of-towners, he said.
Council member Charlie Miranda likewise said he didn't see the point of abolishing the commission.
"I don't understand what it saves the taxpayers," he said.
But Storms, R-Valrico, says the commission adopts nonsensical rules -- cabbies must wear socks, for instance -- creates time-consuming problems for state employees and allows the companies being regulated to wield outsized influence with the local elected officials who sit on the commission. Earlier this year, it helped squeeze a free electric shuttle service out of town.
It’s like Jabba the Hutt, she said, with tentacles that reach everywhere.
She’s not alone. The commission has outlived its usefulness, said state Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, who is co-sponsoring the bill.
Mulhern said she doesn’t necessarily think that the commission should be done away with, but the matter came up so late – about 11:30 p.m. – that the council didn’t have an opportunity to discuss it fully. And based on what she’s read about Storms’ reasons, Mulhern has no problem with the Legislature taking a hard look at the commission.
“It does seem like an extra layer of government,” she said. “What I’ve heard about it was usually not positive, so I think it should be looked at.”
On an unrelated issue, Mulhern also won the council’s approval to ask the legislative delegation to look into whether it’s possible to give the city more of a say when utilities like Tampa Electric replace power poles in neighborhoods. A recent TECO project to replace poles on Fifth Avenue in Ybor City generated complaints, and city officials said state law gave them limited authority over whether to permit the poles.
TECO, for its part, said it sent out numerous letters to residents in the area where the poles went up and held a community meeting to explain its plans, but it was sparsely attended.
After discussing the issue last week, council members still felt frustrated and said what's in place was not enough.
“We’re just going to ask our local delegation to see if there was anything that they could do,” Mulhern said.
The legislative delegation is scheduled to discuss local bills, including Storms', at 9 a.m. on Tuesday at the University of South Florida.