TAMPA — Cabdrivers gathered en masse last month in support of a bill that sought to abolish the Hillsborough agency that regulates how they do their work.
With that bill all but rendered toothless in the short term, many of those same cabdrivers convened in South Tampa Tuesday to figure out what to do next.
They heard presentations from community organizers, and even a union representative, at the Jan Platt Regional Library. They expressed a desire to form some form of association to voice their interests in an attempt to tackle a series of long-term grievances.
The group was convened by Dena Gross Leavengood, a community activist involved with issues ranging from health care for the poor to the environment and voting rights. Leavengood was in the audience last month when the bill by state Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, proposing to do away with the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, was aired.
Leavengood heard cabbie after cabbie describe a variety of concerns about conditions within the agency that they say makes it difficult for them to make a living and puts the public at risk. The bill they supported was altered in a way that makes it unlikely any change to the Public Transportation Commission will happen this year.
For Tuesday's meeting, she invited a representative of the Teamsters union to hear the grievances of cab drivers and to see what, if anything, his organization might do to help. She also invited a representative of the Florida Consumer Action Network, which holds seminars on grass roots organizing.
The meeting largely consisted of cabbies airing a litany of complaints that many of them have voiced for years in Hillsborough County. They included:
• That the cab industry in Hillsborough is a virtual monopoly, with two companies, Yellow Cab and United Cab Co., holding most of the permits to operate.
• That those companies then lease out their cars to cabdrivers, who pay $500 or more a week for the right to be contractors. The lease and other fees, and a lack of health insurance, force them to work longer hours than is safe to drive a vehicle if they hope to turn a modest profit.
• That the commission largely works to maintain the cab companies' monopoly rather than foster competition and protect public safety, its supposed mission.