State Sen. Ronda Storms is on target with her call to eliminate Hillsborough County's Public Transportation Commission. The commission has a lousy record of regulating taxicabs and other for-hire vehicles, and consumers and taxpayers would be better served by having the county — and not a separate layer of government — take responsibility for the job.
Storms, R-Valrico, said she will introduce a bill in next spring's legislative session to disband the PTC and have county staff take over its regulatory function. This is a good idea and long overdue. There is a legitimate need for local government to ensure that taxis, limos, tow trucks and other for-hire vehicles are safe and meet the demand for service. But there is no need for Hillsborough to farm out that job to a separate governmental agency.
The commission is authorized by state law, the only one of its kind in the state. Other counties oversee the industry by using staff already on the payroll at the local government level. The PTC may have a higher profile, but it also is more of a political animal than the bureaucracy that exists in other communities. Elected officials countywide compose its board, giving taxicab and other for-hire players the ability to influence decisions through the use of campaign contributions.
It would be one thing if the commission had managed to bring notable value and quality to taxicab service in the Tampa area. But the agency has a long history of doing little for consumers, and it too often sides with the transport providers whose permitting fees pay the agency's bills. The commission was slow to introduce short-haul fares that especially help tourists and business travelers. It worked to keep low-fare electric carts off the road after taxicab operators complained. And it has a history of hiring and contract scandals.
Storms was too quick to mock the agency for enforcing a dress code for cabbies; the dress code is meant to instill a semblance of professionalism among drivers. But she has a point. The agency has had a problem seeing the big picture. Too often the agency is focused on process and not on service. The issue is not whether the county should regulate for-hire vehicles, but how. There is no need to have a stand-alone agency to conduct background checks on drivers or vehicle inspections. The county can do the job with the same inspectors and by continuing to charge the industry for administrative costs. The result will be a leaner bureaucracy that is accountable to taxpayers and travelers. The county's legislative delegation should support Storms' bill when it discusses the measure Dec. 14.