TAMPA — After a bill to abolish Hillsborough County's controversial Public Transportation Committee died in December, it appeared the agency would escape the 2014 legislative session unscathed.
State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) added an amendment to a seemingly unrelated bill that would outlaw the PTC, County Commissioner Victor Crist said Wednesday.
"It basically guts the agency, taking away all of its abilities to regulate," said Crist, also PTC chairman. "In essence, we're dead."
Brandes said Crist is overreacting, and the amendment would just restrict the agency's regulation of limousines.
"Unfortunately, it will not outlaw the PTC," Brandes said.
The PTC, which regulates taxicabs, limousines, ambulances and tow trucks in Hillsborough, is unique in Florida and has drawn complaints of corruption and waste. One former county commissioner, Kevin White, is in federal prison for taking bribes as PTC chairman. The agency's former director, Cesar Padilla, retired last year after it was discovered he was moonlighting at another job while on the clock.
In December, a bill sponsored by Brandes that would have allowed for a referendum on the PTC's existence failed to gain the support of Hillsborough's legislative delegation. Brandes said then he would pursue legislation that would ban some of the PTC's regulations, like its mandate that limousines charge a minimum of $50 per ride.
The amendment Brandes added to Senate Bill 1630 — which otherwise deals with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services — would do just that, Brandes said. The amendment, which does not mention the PTC, would bar a "special district" (which the PTC is, created by the legislature in 1976) from restricting "the right of the public to freely bargain for lawful livery transit service," meaning limousine service.
"It should not be illegal to give customers a good deal," Brandes said of the $50 minimum, which scared away limousine company Uber during last year's Republican National Convention in Tampa. "It's hurting competition, and it's hurting business."
The bill would not affect the PTC's regulation of other vehicle types, Brandes said.
"If all he wanted to do was strip the ability to impose the $50 minimum, why not come out and say it in straight, simple language?" Crist said. "It's an indirect way of directly shutting us down."
The bill has to go through at least two more committees before it reaches the Senate floor, Brandes said. He expects it to pass. Crist, meanwhile, has asked the PTC's lobbyist to do whatever he can to kill the amendment.
Will Hobson can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3400.