TAMPA — The agency that regulates cars for hire in Hillsborough County blocked one ambulance company's latest bid Wednesday to compete head-to-head with two entrenched competitors.
In doing so, the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission effectively preserved what the applicant's attorney described as a duopoly that could ultimately cost people who call 911.
A motion to approve the application by Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan died on a 3-3 vote.
TransCare Medical Transportation Services, a subsidiary of the nonprofit Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, currently provides ambulances that respond to 911 calls for non-life-threatening injuries or illnesses. It says the service is a money loser.
It was seeking access, as it has unsuccessfully in the past, to the more profitable business of transporting patients between medical treatment centers, for which insurers usually pay. TransCare is allowed to provide the service only as a backup if American Medical Response and AmeriCare Ambulance Service, the county's other two major non-emergency 911 responders, are unavailable.
In recent years, TransCare says it has been forced to respond to an increasing majority of 911 calls, which often are canceled or are made by patients without insurance. That trend is unsustainable, says TransCare attorney Steven Anderson, and could force his client to pull back on 911 calls.
But that's the deal TransCare signed up for when it entered an agreement in 1996 with one of the other companies to provide basic life support services to transport mental-health patients, say attorneys for the other two providers. TransCare has filed a separate federal lawsuit questioning whether it is still bound by the agreement.
A hearing officer in the PTC matter recommended that the board delay a decision until the court case is concluded.
Hagan argued the board was not obligated to wait for the outcome of the suit. He said he believed TransCare met the requirement of showing it would fill a public convenience or need.
Attorneys for the other companies said TransCare failed to show there was a need.