TAMPA — County transportation officials are working to find a way to put electric vehicles that offer an alternative to traditional taxis back on the road.
A plan presented Thursday by Cesar Padilla, executive director of the Public Transportation Commission, outlined proposed new rules covering safety matters such as driver background checks and insurance.
The new regulations would also limit the carts to downtown, Hyde Park, the Channel District and Ybor City, and allow drivers to charge up to $3 per person for the ride. The carts would also be exempt from caps limiting the number of permits issued to taxis.
The Public Transportation Commission board will consider the rules on Sept. 9.
Board member Rose Ferlita said she would like to schedule a special meeting before then so the electric cart companies could be back in business sooner.
"Nobody is trying to push the electric cart companies out of the city," Ferlita said. "We are here to be sure every business, small or large, continues."
The electric cart companies, operating with such names as JoyRide and Hop Tampa, have been shuttered since Aug. 12.
That's when the Public Transportation Commission, under pressure from cab companies that were losing business to the carts, voted to begin regulating the services.
Under current rules, that means the carts need permits and have to meet certain vehicle standards to operate.
Ferlita said she was stunned by the criticism she received from people who accused her of trying to pull the plug on the electric cart companies.
She said her vote to regulate them was solely a matter of safety.
"My first responsibility is to the public, and that's along the lines of public safety," she said.
Cab drivers who spoke at the workshop said they support the proposed rules for regulating the carts.
"We can coexist under the regulatory environment," said Brook Negusei, owner of Cab Plus.
Attorney Michael Brannigan, though, questioned the ability of the commission to regulate the electric vehicles at all, saying they're not mentioned in the state statute that outlines its responsibilities.
"The vote that was taken last time was in direct violation of your own procedures," he said. "You took a vote on something that wasn't even publicly noticed. We're here today in a workshop and it's kind of a foregone conclusion that PTC has the authority and that these are substantially the rules that are going to be implemented. . . . Where is the authority coming from?"
Orlando Perez, a senior assistant county attorney who advises the commission, told Brannigan there was no point in discussing the previous vote.
"This forum provides an opportunity to look forward and try to develop a relationship where the industries potentially can coexist," Perez said. "I don't feel that it's really productive for us to rehash and reconsider what the commission did."
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.