County attorney to PTC: you need a new lawyer
The embattled Public Transportation Commission may soon need new legal representation.
The agency at the center of the battle between rideshare firms like Uber and Lyft and the taxicab industry pays Hillsborough County government for the services of Assistant County Attorney Cindy Oster to handle legal matters.
But Oster’s boss, County Attorney Chip Fletcher, is recommending that the PTC seek new counsel because he fears a potential conflict of interest if state lawmakers move to dissolve the PTC.
In an email sent Friday to PTC Board Chairman Victor Crist, Fletcher said he will be briefing other PTC board members about his recommendation.
A chief concern would be that dissolution of the agency that regulates for-hire vehicles like taxicabs, limousines and tow trucks would mean additional responsibilities for his other client, the county. That would make it difficult for his office to advocate for both clients, he said.
“We’ve identified a potential conflict of interest for the PTC and the county and the Board of County Commissioners,” Fletcher said. “Based on current information, it seems like it’s a preferential course of action.”
State lawmakers including state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg have publicly accused the PTC of stifling innovation because it has applied the rules drawn up for taxicab and rental limousines to rideshare firms.
Young recently requested an investigation of the agency and its Executive Director Kyle Cockream after the Tampa Bay Times revealed that the agency was using workers from taxicab and limousine-hire firms in sting operations to catch Uber and Lyft drivers.
Those sting operations and others result in $700 fines to Uber and Lyft drivers for operating without permits and commercial insurance. The PTC has also fought the two firms in court over its right to regulate them. PTC leaders say they are merely enforcing existing law and that there should be an even playing field between ridesharing and taxicab firms.
The PTC board is scheduled to vote on a temporary operating agreement to legalize ridesharing in Hillsborough County on Nov. 9