Days after leaving PTC, Victor Crist calls for agency's abolition
TAMPA - Just days after his stint as its chairman ended, Victor Crist is calling for the Public Transportation Commission to be scrapped.
In an email sent Friday, Crist called on state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, to abolish the agency at the center of the regulatory battle with ridesharing giants Uber and Lyft.
Crist, also a Hillsborough county commissioner, said the agency he led for four years is too bureaucratic and too slow to adjust to new technology like ridesharing.
The PTC also allows taxicab, limousine firms and others to block and delay regulations they do not like, he said, adding that its role should now fall to county government.
“At this juncture, the way the special act was written gives too much influence to the companies of the business we regulate,” he said.
Brandes has been one of the agency’s arch critics in recent years. He filed a bill to scrap the PTC in 2013 but it failed to win enough support from the local legislative delegation.
“I’m 100 percent in support of getting rid of the PTC and have been for years,” Brandes said Monday.
His district, however, was redrawn this year and no longer touches Hillsborough. It would now fall to someone in the Hillsborough legislative delegation to end the PTC.
That could be incoming state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, who recently called on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the PTC after a Tampa Bay Times report revealed the agency used taxicab and limousine staffers during sting operations against Uber and Lyft drivers.
The sting operations were part of a more than two-year battle between the PTC and the rideshare firms, who claimed the agency was acting to protect the taxicab and limo industry.
That dispute ended last week when a divided PTC board narrowly approved a deal to let Uber and Lyft operate legally through 2017. It exempted their drivers from undergoing the same fingerprint background checks required of taxicab drivers.
“It was really a last-ditch gasp from the PTC to try and remain alive and relevant,” Young said. “I don’t know that it changes the fact that they are an inept regulatory body.”
New PTC chairman Al Higginbotham said he was unaware his predecessor had written to Brandes.
“He certainly didn’t waste any time expressing his feelings,” he said.
Higginbotham, who also is a county commissioner, said his priority always was to ensure the safety of the riding public. The insistence on fingerprinting was because it is required in the state law that established the PTC.
“They certainly tied our hands when it came to fingerprinting,” he said. “Whatever the new model is, I hope they address that process.”
The law establishing the PTC to regulate taxis, limos and tow trucks passed in 1976. That task is handled by city or county government in every other Florida county.
A slew of key departures have given the agency an end-of-era feeling.
Crist announced in September he would leave the PTC. He will ask to be assigned to another board during the county commission re-organizational meeting on Nov. 22.
Executive Director Kyle Cockream announced that he will step down at the end of the year, earlier than previously scheduled.
Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick resigned in protest of the deal with Uber and Lyft
The agency is also looking for new attorneys after county legal staff said they will no longer represent the agency.
Meanwhile, the agency is still facing legal challenges.
A lawsuit filed Friday by Tampa rideshare firm DriveSociety claims the deal with Uber and Lyft gives them preferential treatment.
In addition to the waiving of fingerprinting, it also waives a requirement for drivers to have a public vehicle permit.
But that deal does not apply to other ridesharing companies. The startup has also been joined in its lawsuit by several taxicab and limousine-rental firms that have indicated they want to offer ridesharing services.
Contact Christopher O’Donnell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.