Hillsborough legislators support local bill to abolish county Public Transportation Commission
With no fuss, Hillsborough County’s legislative delegation on Friday advanced a local bill to abolish the beleaguered Public Transportation Commission.
“The public has lost complete faith in the ability of this agency to regulate credibly, equitably and efficiently,” said state Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, who is sponsoring the bill.
With not a single objection, the delegation moved the bill toward next spring’s legislative session.
Various legislators have talked about killing the PTC for years — one senator once compared it to Jabba the Hut, with “tentacles everywhere” — but this appears to be the closest anyone has come so far to that goal.
“What a difference a year makes, huh?” said delegation chairman Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon. Last year, the delegation held a lengthy hearing before supporting a bill to regulate Uber and Lyft, which died in during the session.
Created by the Legislature in 1976, the PTC has its own staff and is governed by an appointed board of elected officials from the county and its cities.
It is unique in Florida, but it increasingly it has stirred controversy, especially as it has wrestled with how to regulate new ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft and faced accusations that it has tried to crack down on those companies to the benefit of the older, more established taxicab companies that it regulates.
In 2013, when the delegation took up a bill to hold a countywide referendum on getting rid of the PTC, cabbies packed a lengthy hearing. After critics raised questions about what regulation, if any, would be put in place if the PTC were to be abolished, that bill died when Hillsborough state representatives failed to support it in sufficient numbers to recommend it to the full Legislature.
This year, the legislative delegation took 15 minutes to discuss the bill and heard from just two members of the public, one in support and another who asked what comes after what Grant called the PTC’s “execution.”
“I think the plan is to subcontract the regulation out to Uber, isn’t it?” Lee joked.
That got a big laugh.
Grant said regulation of taxicabs, limousines, tow trucks and ambulances would be turned over to Hillsborough County effective Dec. 31, 2017.
The local government would have flexibility to craft the new regulations, he said. The PTC also would be banned from taking on any new debt that the county would have to repay after the hand-over.
“The county stands prepared to take over regulation of this industry and create a meaningful regulatory framework,” County Commission chairman Stacy White said.
When his wife or one of his children get into a ride-for-hire vehicle, White said he wants “to be assured that the vehicle’s properly insured (and) the driver has done gone through at least a basic background check, just to be sure that they’re safe.
“I think that those types of things would be able to be implemented by the county with relative ease,” he said.
This spring's legislative session could also see Florida enact statewide regulations for ridesharing, something 34 states have already done.
Previous efforts to regulate the industry were thwarted by former Senate President Andy Gardiner, a friend of Orlando taxi and limo operator Paul Mears III. Mears donated $150,000 to the state GOP when Gardiner was in leadership.
In contrast, new Senate President Joe Negron has publicly supported creating statewide ridesharing standards.