TAMPA — For years, state Sen. Ronda Storms has lamented the existence of the county's Public Transportation Commission.
This year, she hopes to get rid of it.
Storms, R-Valrico, wants other members of the Hillsborough County legislative delegation to back a bill eliminating the agency, which regulates taxis, limos, ambulances, tow trucks and other vehicles for hire.
"The PTC has been mired in scandal and controversy the last five or six years," she said. "They're like Jabba the Hutt. They've got tentacles everywhere. They keep expanding and it's costing the state time and money. Nobody else does this."
Over the years, the commission has been criticized for hiring an executive director that didn't meet job requirements, paying a lobbyist who had worked as a campaign consultant for the commission's board chairman, and forcing a free electric shuttle service out of business.
Mandated by state law, Hillsborough's Public Transportation Commission is the only organization of its kind in the state.
Storms said its most important functions, such as making sure vehicles for hire are safe and drivers aren't a danger to passengers, can be handled by the Hillsborough County staff.
"It makes good sense to me. It's what we stand for as Republicans. Less government, more efficiency, more streamlining. It's what the voters want," Storms said of her bill. "What is it that they're doing to justify the additional layer of government?"
Because any rule changes or questions about the commission are directed to the Legislature, its existence requires additional work by state employees, Storms said. "They will tell you our PTC causes nothing but problems."
And some of the rules they impose, she said, are ludicrous.
"They have a rule that says cabbies have to wear socks. I mean, please. Come on," she said.
Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, is co-sponsoring the bill.
"It's outlived its useful purpose," he said of the agency.
He said he decided to back the bill because last year he was irritated by resistance from the agency to setting up a system for challenging its rules.
"It's time to do a reorganization," Glorioso said. "It doesn't mean the industry won't be regulated. But it would be done by the county instead of a second independent agency."
Yellow Cab owner Louis Minardi said he doesn't understand why Storms would want to get rid of the organization.
"It's ridiculous," said.
The agency doesn't cost taxpayers any money because it's supported largely through fees paid by permit holders, he said.
"I don't see where there's going to be cost savings," he said. "It has been working very well."
But detractors say the PTC, which is made up of elected officials, is in the pocket of big transport companies who make contributions to political campaigns.
With the help of the commission, Yellow Cab this year shut down free electric vehicle services in and around downtown Tampa and launched its own free shuttle service.
"The PTC doesn't do anything good for anybody but the taxi companies," said Luis Lara, who operated an electric cart service called Joyride. "So what do I think about what Ms. Storms is doing? I think it's great."
John Dingfelder, who served on the PTC board when he was a Tampa City Council member, said Storms is on target.
"If it's just run by the administration it would take a lot of the politics out of it and it would be more consistent with the way it's done elsewhere in the state," he said.
Dingfelder was one of the transportation commission members who fought to keep the electric vehicles operating.
"Those weren't harming anybody and yet the existing companies fought them tooth and nail," he said. "Right now it's a very monopolistic set up with a lot of control by the folks who are already in business, and they've enjoyed that control for many years. I agree completely with Ronda Storms that it would be better off handled by administrators within the county."
Hillsborough County's legislative delegation will discuss Storms' bill and other local bills at 9 a.m. on Dec. 14 at the University of South Florida.
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.