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Embattled Hillsborough transportation commission facing legal action over limo fees

TAMPA — It's executive director is getting heat for moonlighting during the work week. Legislators are talking about revamping or even disbanding the agency. And now this.

A national public-interest law group with libertarian leanings plans to sue the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, saying the minimum fares it sets for limos are a government overreach.

The PTC sets a minimum of $50 for limo rides in the county, no matter the distance, in part to keep them from poaching business that would go to cabs. Its spokesman says that's the price that a consensus of limo companies sought the most recent time the issue was debated. It's an amount they say was needed in order to make money.

"It should not be illegal to give your customers a better deal," said Justin Pearson, executive director of the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice's Florida Chapter.

The Institute for Justice says it will be representing Tom Halsnik, owner of Black Pearl Limousine, and Daniel Faubion, a customer. The suit will be filed Wednesday in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

Similar complaints were offered recently by a group of young entrepreneurs. They cited difficulties entering the market by the San Francisco-based company Uber, which provides a smart phone application that allows people to dial up limo offers on their phone. The $50 minimum has been an impediment to entering the Tampa market, company representatives have said.

State legislators, including Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, have cited Uber's experience in saying it's time to revisit the PTC's mission, that it is thwarting entrepreneurship.

The PTC has been in the spotlight recently after the Tampa Bay Times reported that Executive Director Cesar Padilla was moonlighting as a private security guard on work days when county payroll records indicated he was working or out sick. The Sheriff's Office last week revoked his status as a reserve deputy, which allowed him to do the security work.

Chief Inspector Mario Tamargo, who serves as the PTC's spokesman, said the agency has won past challenges over its rules and emphasized that limo operators sought the minimum charge. He said the PTC has no vested interest in the rate.

"If they set it down to zero, we'll enforce that," Tamargo said.

Embattled Hillsborough transportation commission facing legal action over limo fees 08/27/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 7:39pm]
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