TAMPA — For the first time in years, the Hillsborough County agency that regulates cars for hire has agreed to allow an ambulance company to expand its reach in Hillsborough County.
Reversing at least two earlier decisions, the Public Transportation Commission on Wednesday removed a restriction limiting TransCare Medical Transportation Service to responding to 911 calls and shuttling mental health patients.
The PTC's 3-1 vote means TransCare can enter the more lucrative market of transporting patients between health care centers, such as from a hospital to a specialist. That service has been the domain for years of two other companies that have consistently and successfully fought TransCare's entry into that part of the market.
TransCare is a subsidiary of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, a nonprofit that helps people in times of distress, whether they're coping with substance abuse or considering suicide. Revenue from TransCare helps underwrite those services.
"The PTC's action means more competition, improved services to our county's residents and more choice for health care providers and consumers alike," said Terence Ramotar, vice president of TransCare.
TransCare has argued for years that there is a need for greater competition in the transport of patients between medical facilities. The company is the first responder to 911 calls in Tampa from people with non-life-threatening injuries or illnesses. It provides that service as a backup in unincorporated areas of Hillsborough to the other two main ambulance companies, American Medical Response and AmeriCare Ambulance Service.
But TransCare officials have said they are being forced to respond to a growing share of 911 calls as the other two companies concentrate on transporting patients between medical facilities. That tends to be more lucrative work because 911 calls are often canceled mid-response or serve patients with no insurance or ability to pay.
Attorneys for the two other companies said TransCare failed to show that there was a need for a third competitor in the interfacility transport business. And AMR has said TransCare is bound by a 1996 agreement between the two companies in which TransCare agreed to limit its business to 911 calls and mental health patients.
A Circuit Court judge ruled last month that the PTC was not bound by that agreement. AMR is appealing the ruling.
AMR attorney Seth Mills said TransCare has failed to show that there is a void in the marketplace.
PTC board member Ken Hagan, the Hillsborough County Commission chairman, said TransCare only had to prove its entry in the market would promote a public convenience and necessity.