TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission says it has been left out of the planning — and the funding — for the Republican National Convention.
"Neither the commission nor our staff have been kept apprised of the transportation needs of the convention," commission chairman and Plant City Mayor Dan Raulerson recently wrote to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
The commission regulates taxicabs, limos and shuttle vans in Hillsborough County, and it has heard talk of limousine companies coming in from out of town and cab stands in downtown Tampa being closed for the convention, which will be held Aug. 27-30.
"We've got to determine where we are going to put the cabs so they can operate, because I can assure you, people are going to use cabs," Mario Tamargo, the commission's chief inspector, said Monday.
Marc Hamlin, Tampa's assistant police chief, said the commission was "definitely an important and valued partner" during security planning for past Tampa Super Bowls. It's reasonable to include it in convention planning, as well, so its inquiry will go to a subcommittee working on transportation issues.
In his Feb. 13 letter to Buckhorn, Raulerson outlined two concerns.
First, the commission is concerned that private transport companies will come in and work during the convention without getting the background checks required by state law.
That's what's happened in the past when the Super Bowl came to town.
"We actually had cabs here from Jacksonville," Tamargo said, "so I imagine it's going to be even worse for the convention."
Raulerson said it's important to screen the companies that work such events to protect passengers and Tampa's image.
Second, the commission wants a slice — though likely a small one — of the $50 million federal convention security grant the city is getting.
The commission expects that its inspectors, who are sworn law enforcement officers, will have to work a lot of overtime before, during and after the convention.
It has five inspectors, though it hired two part-timers to help with the work during the last Super Bowl, when inspectors did background checks and inspections on 100 or more vehicles.
Working the convention without additional funding "would be quite an ordeal for us, because during the Super Bowl, my guys were working 16 hours a day and going out on the street making sure everybody was legitimate," Tamargo said.
Hamlin said there's a process by which agencies that incur security expenses during the convention can submit a request to have those costs covered. They have to meet certain criteria, and authorities will prioritize the reimbursements.
Created by special state statute in 1976, the commission — colloquially known as the PTC — regulates everything from the number of taxicabs allowed in Hillsborough County to determining which tow truck drivers can be called to accident scenes to granting permits for ambulances that provide basic life support.
The commission's board consists of three county commissioners, two Tampa City Council members and one representative each from Plant City and Temple Terrace.
The commission does not regulate buses, which the convention has arranged for separately. In October, the convention said it was hiring SP Plus Gameday of Orlando to run the fleet of 300 charter buses needed to carry 5,000 delegates, alternates and guests around Tampa Bay.
Still, the commission's inspectors will not be alone in vetting drivers working the convention.
Raulerson noted that the Secret Service will perform its own background checks on drivers of buses transporting delegates and limousines carrying certain VIPs.
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected], (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.