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Caitlin Johnston, Times Staff Writer

Caitlin Johnston

Caitlin Johnston covers transportation, breaking news and features in eastern Hillsborough County. She is a graduate of Indiana University, with her master's from the University of Maryland.

She's always looking for story ideas.

Phone: (813) 661-2443

E-mail: cjohnston@tampabay.com

Twitter: @cljohnst

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  1. Regulators affirm ruling that Uber functions as taxi company

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County's Public Transportation Commission affirmed Wednesday that ride-share outfit Uber largely functions as a taxi cab company and is subject to regulations on permits and licensing.

    Wednesday's hearing was part of an ongoing appeal process for five tickets that inspectors issued to the ride-share company for two types of citations: operating a for-hire service without a proper permit, and allowing or causing drivers to operate a public for-hire vehicle without the proper driver's license....

  2. Transit backers consider coordinating across counties in 2016

    Mass Transit

    Hillsborough County tried to pass a transit tax four years ago and failed. Similar efforts in Pinellas and Polk counties crashed even harder last week. Could they try again at the same time and succeed together?

    Transit advocates on both sides of the bay say it's a question worth considering.

    Tuesday's defeat of the Greenlight Pinellas ballot measure and Polk's My Ride/My Road referendum sets up a possible scenario in which all three counties try to pass transit taxes two years from now. Hillsborough leaders have been laying the groundwork for a proposed 2016 referendum asking for a 1-cent sales tax increase to pay for a combination of road construction and bus service....

  3. Will and grace key to successful Pig Jig

    Human Interest

    TAMPA

    Two weeks before his 25th birthday, newly earned master's degree in hand and eager to depart for a one-year program in Kenya, Will Wellman seemed invincible.

    Active and vibrant, he was on the cusp of building a life for himself and seeing what the world had to offer. But his body had other plans. Within a one-month period, Wellman went from experiencing intense stomach pain to being diagnosed with minimal change disease, a kidney disorder. Over the course of nine months, that disease would transform into a rare, incurable kidney disease known as FSGS. ...

    The event, which raises money for the NephCure Foundation, has live music.
  4. Hillsborough leaders set to pursue transit tax vote, despite defeats elsewhere

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County leaders are determined to soldier on with their own tax-for-transportation referendum, but failed efforts to pass similar measures Tuesday in Pinellas and Polk counties are raising questions about how and when.

    For months, some have challenged whether 2016 would be the right year to hold the vote, and others have debated just how specific the wording on the ballot should be....

  5. HART gives interim CEO the job permanently

    Transportation

    TAMPA — With big changes in store for Hillsborough County's bus system if voters agree in a few years to a higher sales tax for transportation, directors voted Monday to make the agency's interim leader a permanent one.

    Officials will now negotiate a contract with Katharine Eagan, 41, who earned about $163,000 a year as interim CEO of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority. Directors voted to approve Eagan without conducting a national search and evaluating outside options....

    Katharine Eagan is named the CEO of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit.
  6. Hillsborough County leaders differ on transit tax approach

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — As Hillsborough County lays plans for a potential tax-for-transportation referendum in 2016, proponents are divided about how best to entice voters to approve a measure they rejected four years ago.

    County Administrator Mike Merrill wants to avoid the snarl of 2010, when the hot-button term "rail" dominated discussions about approving an extra penny of sales tax to help pay for transportation projects. His goal is to build consensus by first asking people what their needs are — instead of jumping into a conversation about whether light rail is the best solution....

  7. Temperatures will warm for the week before dropping again

    Weather

    TAMPA — People will get the chance to warm up after a chilly Halloween weekend, but the higher temps are only expected to last through the end of the work week.

    The Tampa Bay area will be on a warming trend until about Thursday, with the next cold front coming through early on Friday, Bay News 9 meteorologist Diane Kacmarik said.

    "It does look like it will bring some cooler air for the weekend," Kacmarik said. "Probably not this drastic, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see some 40s around the bay area."...

  8. Regulators go undercover to ticket Lyft, Uber, taxi drivers

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County regulators are going undercover to ticket for-hire drivers they say are operating illegally, whether they drive for ride-share outlets Uber and Lyft or traditional taxi companies.

    The Public Transportation Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles, has issued about 50 tickets so far as a result of these rides, executive director Kyle Cockream said.

    The undercover work began about three months ago. The undercover passengers, who are either PTC investigators or private contractors, take a ride and look for possible violations. ...

    A billboard posted by the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission warns drivers on Interstate 4 near 50th Street warning people about "illegal transportation providers" - in other words, Uber and Lyft. [SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times]
  9. Riverview Chamber expects 10,000 for Trick or Treat Street

    Events

    RIVERVIEW — Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce officials expects close to 10,000 kids and adults to descend upon Riverview High School for the 26th annual Trick or Treat Street on Saturday.

    The event, sponsored by the chamber, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation & Conservation and Riverview High School, will run from 4 to 8 p.m. and include candy, costume contests, booths, dodgeball and other activities....

    The Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce’s Trick or Treat Street event drew between 6,000 and 8,000 people last year.
  10. Hillsborough's tax-for-transportation referendum might not specify rail

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — If Hillsborough County voters are asked in 2016 to approve an extra sales tax for transportation, the ballot question might not mention the words "light rail" — or any other specific mode of mass transit.

    In a move that sharply differs from the Greenlight Pinellas referendum, a Hillsborough plan that could be the backbone for a referendum here would refer only to "fixed guideways" — a term that includes bus rapid transit and all types of rail, including heavy, light or commuter....

    “In terms of transit projects, it would be focusing on corridors rather than specific modes of transit,” Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill says.
  11. 10 things to understand about Lyft and Uber

    Transportation

    Ride-share companies Uber and Lyft have generated a lot of discussion since they launched here in April. The services, which allow smartphone users to summon nearby drivers, have faced scrutiny nationwide for not complying with regulatory systems aimed at taxis and limousines.

    While local regulators and state officials determine how and if the companies will operate in Florida, here's what you need to know about the latest transportation option to hit the Tampa Bay area....

  12. Two former House reps square off in District 63 rematch

    Kyc

    Florida House | District 63

    This rematch pits an incumbent, Mark Danish, against a former representative, Shawn Harrison. Harrison served two years in the House of Representatives and then was defeated by Danish in 2012 after the district was redrawn. By Caitlin Johnston, Times staff writer

    Mark Danish, 60Shawn Harrison, 49
    PartyDemocratRepublican
    Experience Danish is a longtime Hillsborough County teacher who took a leave of absence from his job at Benito Middle School in 2013 as he sought to make an impact in education policy while in Tallahassee. Danish, who lives in New Tampa, helped pass legislation this past session related to education, disability services and medical marijuana. Prior to his election, Danish advocated in Tallahassee on behalf of teachers with the teachers union. Harrison, who has lived in New Tampa his entire adult life, is an owner in his Tampa law firm and largely represents nursing homes. He and his wife, Susan, own a business that does background screenings for the long-term care industry The former Tampa City Council member was first elected to the Florida House in 2010. He sponsored several bills, including one that became Amendment 9, the Florida Property Tax Exemption for Surviving Spouses.
    EducationBachelor's degree in earth and environmental science/secondary education from City University of New York (Queens College).Bachelor's degree in political science from the University of South Florida; law degree from the University of Florida.
    What would your top priority be if elected to the Florida House?"My first and foremost priority as a legislator is to ensure that our public school system is fully funded. An additional major priority is going to be fully funding spring restoration and Everglades projects.""Job creation." Harrison said he would like to revamp a bill he filed in 2011 that would create an apprenticeship program for college students in exchange for a tax break for businesses. He said he values entrepreneurship and small business.
    How would you change the state's tax system? "I believe that Florida should be taxing Internet sales for out-of-state merchants. I also believe in reducing taxes for the middle class and small businesses. Additionally, large corporations shouldn't be handed tax giveaways without being held accountable for the jobs they have promised.""I don't think we need any changes right now. Everything works pretty good. We weathered a pretty difficult storm in 2011 and 2012. I don't think we need to make any major changes to our tax structure." He does not support taxing out-of-state merchants....

    Harrison
  13. HART names three board members

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — County commissioners have named three members to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit board whose terms will be effective Nov. 1.

    Karen Jaroch and Wallace Bowers were reappointed to the board and architect Mickey Jacob was selected to his first term. Seventeen people filed with the county to fill the three open spots on the 13-person panel. The positions are unpaid.

    "That was the highest they've had in a very long time," spokeswoman Sandra Morrison said. "I guess being part of the HART board is a hot option now."...

  14. State regulator says Uber meets Florida insurance requirement

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Ride-share outfit Uber is one step closer to operating legally here now that the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation says the company's policy provides legally binding coverage that meets state requirements.

    The company's $1 million commercial insurance policy has been a major point of contention in the fight to bring the service to the Tampa Bay area. The Public Transportation Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough County, has opposed the ride-share company since its launch here in April, citing concerns about insurance and licensing, along with insufficient background and vehicle checks....

  15. Tampa costume shop Features closing after 27 years

    Retail

    TAMPA — For years, browsing the rows of Features costumes in search of the perfect Halloween outfit has been a tradition for Mary Hanyok.

    But things were different Tuesday as she passed by the witches hats and vampire teeth, knowing that this was the last time she would find a costume at the Tampa staple that has been serving customers for 27 years.

    "I'm very upset," Hanyok said, as she thumbed through a row of costumes including cowgirls and a saloon dancers. "I can't believe they're closing. This is an annual visit for me."...

    Features Costumes, at 3015 W Barcelona St. in Tampa, has been the spot for Gasparilla and Halloween costumes for nearly three decades. Now, as the owners try to retire, the store is closing. Costumes are selling for their rental prices.