TAMPA — Even as they raised concerns and questions, local legislators voted Tuesday to support a proposed bill that could let Hillsborough County taxi drivers use their permits as loan collateral or inheritance.
Presented by Sen. Jack Latvala at the local legislative delegation's annual meeting, the plan would convert all cab drivers' permits in the county into private property.
"I believe this will help in economic development," said Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, "and provide a path for people who have always had to work for someone else to work for themselves."
Taxi permits currently are owned by companies, which lease them to individual drivers. Under the bill, the permits would become property that the companies could sell. And some new permits would go to drivers.
Among predicted effects of the bill, co-sponsored by state Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Temple Terrace: New drivers and more county and state tax revenues. Latvala also said it could generate more money for the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission, which would run the program and could auction certificates.
The proposal drew backing from Tampa Taxi Coalition, which represents several businesses, a co-owner of Americab, and the president and two drivers from Yellow Cab. They touted ownership as an incentive for drivers to take pride in their work.
But some worry the proposed program, modeled after concepts in places such as Manhattan and Miami-Dade County, won't upend a local taxi industry that has been criticized as largely monopolized by two companies.
Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, noted her opposition but said, "In deference, I hold my nose and vote to move it forward today."
She later told the St. Petersburg Times that the concept challenges fair-market principles, leaving few permits up for grabs for eligible drivers.
A bill to give private property rights to license holders statewide didn't survive last year's session.
Sen. Rich Glorioso, a Plant City Republican, took issue with this year's local incarnation because it didn't set limits on the value of the licenses or parameters for selling them. He cited a New York case where a medallion sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Still, the bill gathered the votes to go before the Legislature with one change: to mandate one-third of new permits go to drivers, not companies.