Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Transportation

Florida backs off license tag fight

TALLAHASSEE — Backing away from a possible court fight, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles announced Friday that it will halt its attempt to bid license tag services to private vendors.

Tax collectors — who distribute state tags — and two manufacturing groups tried to block the change by lobbying elected officials and filing legal action against the department.

Highway Safety Chief Julie Jones had wanted to save money by paying private companies $31.4 million over two years to make tags and distribute mail and online orders, but she abandoned the idea under pressure from Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, among others.

"We listened to what everyone had to say, considered questions that vendors posed and received information from our tax collector partners," Jones said. "Based on the input, we have decided to withdraw (efforts to privatize)."

The decision will keep Florida out of administrative court, which is where it seemed headed Tuesday after department lawyers shut down tax collectors' requests to retract its invitation to bidders.

Jones' change of heart earned praise from Bondi, who said the department "did the right thing."

Manufacturing company Avery Dennison and St. Petersburg-based PRIDE, a nonprofit organization that uses prisoners to manufacture tags, filed formal protests and met with state officials this week.

For them, the state's decision may only be a temporary victory.

Stephen Hurm, an attorney for the state highway agency, told tax collectors Friday that the department will not seek to privatize plate distribution but could reignite the push as early as January to bid out the manufacturing role.

The state may want to switch from raised tags to the more modern flat tags that are thought to be more legible for red light and toll cameras. PRIDE doesn't have the equipment to make flat tags.

Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden says he will fight the state if it moves to exclude PRIDE.

"Why change a system that is working well and that customers enjoy? My job as an elected official is to provide the most friendly, capable customer service for the best price. We're doing that," said Belden, who criticized Jones for excluding tax collectors in her decisions.

Belden, along with PRIDE lobbyist Wilbur Brewton, argue that flat tags are no easier to read and are more expensive — which will result in more fees for motorists. The company may try to invest in new technology if that's what it takes to continue working with the state, Brewton said.

"Is the equipment currently sitting in the plant to do it? No," he said. "This could cause harm, but we would have to calculate that once we see the details."

Jones hasn't committed to any tag — flat or raised, she said. She just wants something legible and well-priced.

"We want to get the best product moving into the future in terms of technology, but at a cost that's affordable," Jones said. "This is going to be done in a cost-effective manner."

The controversy over the tags is not expected to stall a planned redesign.

Floridians can continue to vote on four designs for a new state tag at Vote4FloridaTag.com. About 50,000 people have weighed in. The deadline is Dec. 14.

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 323-0353.

Comments
Transportation activists hope to pave over past referendum defeats

Transportation activists hope to pave over past referendum defeats

TAMPA — The group behind a sales tax transportation initiative used hundreds of volunteers and spent at least $550,000 on a petition-gathering firm in a frantic six-week dash to qualify for the Nov. 6 General Election ballot.That may have been the ea...
Published: 08/11/18
Troubled SunPass vendor could have to pay $1.7 million, but Florida isn’t asking for it

Troubled SunPass vendor could have to pay $1.7 million, but Florida isn’t asking for it

The vendor responsible for recent problems with the SunPass tolling system could be on the hook to pay the state at least $1.7 million based on a review of documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.But the Florida Department of Transportation hasn’t ...
Published: 08/08/18
Updated: 08/09/18
Petition succeeds, Hillsborough voters set to decide on sales tax hike for transportation

Petition succeeds, Hillsborough voters set to decide on sales tax hike for transportation

TAMPA — As if there wasn’t enough riding on the mid-term elections, a plan to raise the sales tax to pay for transportation projects is now set to go before Hillsborough voters.The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections confirmed Wednesday that ...
Published: 08/08/18

Flooding closes WPA Road in Brooksville; Rackley, other roads still closed

BROOKSVILLE — Flooding on Wednesday led the Hernando County Department of Public Works to close WPA Road just south of its intersection with Mondon Hill Road.More than a foot of water is covering part of the road, east of downtown Brooksville, accord...
Published: 08/08/18
Ferry project waves goodbye to $4.7 million federal grant

Ferry project waves goodbye to $4.7 million federal grant

TAMPA — If the long-awaited commuter ferry service between south Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base ever happens, it will likely be without federal money. Leaders of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority acknowledged Mon...
Published: 08/06/18
Updated: 08/07/18
High-speed rail firm scouting land for station and development around proposed Rays ballpark site

High-speed rail firm scouting land for station and development around proposed Rays ballpark site

TAMPA — Brightline, the firm behind the passenger rail system between Miami and West Palm Beach, doesn’t yet know if it will win a state bid to build a high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando.But the company is already scouting sites for a ter...
Published: 08/04/18
Southbound I-275 ramp to northbound 75 in Manatee County to close for 10 months

Southbound I-275 ramp to northbound 75 in Manatee County to close for 10 months

People who travel from Pinellas County to southern Hillsborough using the interstates may want to build in some extra time.The Florida Department of Transportation has shut down the ramp that shuttles motorists from southbound Interstate 275 in Manat...
Published: 08/01/18
Waterborne transportation a fact of life in other cities; why not Tampa Bay?

Waterborne transportation a fact of life in other cities; why not Tampa Bay?

Mark Hubbard, the owner of Hubbard’s Marina on John’s Pass, has watched two decades of uncertainty over the future of waterborne transportation play out in Tampa Bay. Just when it seems that Tampa and St. Petersburg have figured out how ...
Updated one month ago
One Florida agency rejected the troubled SunPass vendor three years ago. Here’s why.

One Florida agency rejected the troubled SunPass vendor three years ago. Here’s why.

When Florida wanted to consolidate its tolling systems into what drivers now know as SunPass, regional expressway agencies in Tampa, Orlando, and Miami were ready to work together. But when Xerox spinoff Conduent State & Local Solutions was chosen as...
Updated one month ago
Uber says ride app funnels $1.1 billion a year into Florida’s economy

Uber says ride app funnels $1.1 billion a year into Florida’s economy

There’s no question that Uber has changed the way Floridians travel and spend money, but until now it’s been hard to quantify just how much. A new study paid for by the popular ride share app says it has contributed about $1.1 billion an...
Updated one month ago