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Victor Crist, taxi companies get into it at Public Transportation Commission meeting

Hillsborough County Comissioner Victor Crist, who is also the chairman of the Public Transportation Commission, got into a heated exchange with taxi company owners during Tuesday's meeting. Crist even called for the dismantling of the PTC, which regulates for-hire vehicles like taxis and limos in Hillsborough. [DANIEL WALLACE, Times]
Hillsborough County Comissioner Victor Crist, who is also the chairman of the Public Transportation Commission, got into a heated exchange with taxi company owners during Tuesday's meeting. Crist even called for the dismantling of the PTC, which regulates for-hire vehicles like taxis and limos in Hillsborough. [DANIEL WALLACE, Times]
Published Apr. 28, 2016

TAMPA — Victor Crist is over it.

The chair of the Public Transportation Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough county such as taxis and limos, wants out.

His frustration after years of tension between cabs, rideshare companies and regulators reached the breaking point at a committee meeting Tuesday when the county commissioner got into a heated exchange with Yellow Cab president Louis Minardi.

Crist then called for the dismantling of his own agency. He wants the agency's state charter to be revoked — a move long-called for by the PTC's most hostile critics in the Florida Legislature — and reformed as a county agency comprised of non-elected officials.

"Everyone, all parties involved, are better served eliminating the special act and moving this agency under the county," Crist said, according to an audio recording.

The crowd, a mixture of taxi owners, lawyers and rideshare representatives, started to raise their voices. Several cab owners called for Crist to resign.

"You're just destroying the agency," one voice shouted.

Robert's Rules of Order went out the window as the meeting briefly slid into disarray.

Temple Terrace City Council member David Pogorilich, who chaired the PTC meeting, tried to calm the crowd, but the eruptions continued. And it didn't stop after the meeting, when PTC executive director Kyle Cockream said the commissioner and a taxi lobbyist started shouting at each other.

"We were yelling so loudly that they could hear us on the entire floor," Crist told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday. "It was at the top of our lungs. They were screaming and being disrespectful and saying ugly things. And I blasted them right back."

Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said the yelling prompted someone to ask one of the deputies stationed in the county building to check on the meeting on the 26th floor.

"We got a call, someone said they heard a loud discussion in there and didn't know if it was getting out of hand," McKinnon said. "But by the time we got up there the meeting was done."

Tuesday's meeting was aimed at discussing proposed rule changes that would finally allow rideshare companies to legally do business in Hillsborough. Instead, it devolved into bickering as cab company owners accused Crist of getting too cozy with their competitors.

"If you don't believe in this agency, why can't you resign, sir?" asked Brook Negusei, president of Cab Plus Inc. in Tampa. "To me, I lose confidence in you ... I think you sold us out."

The commissioner fired back, saying the industry was not willing to change with the times and was scared of having to compete with companies like Uber and Lyft.

But in the audio recording, Minardi defended the cab industry. He said taxis have the same technology and abilities as rideshares, but are forced to pay thousands of dollars in fees and permits each year while Uber and Lyft don't pay a single cent to the county.

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"There are people who want to work within your framework, and those are the ones you're trashing," Minardi told Crist. "And the ones who are telling you — 'You either do it our way or you hit the road' — are the ones you're defending today."

LISTEN IN: Hear a 12-minute audio clip from Tuesday's meeting

Crist said he has dealt with mounting threats and bullying from the cab companies, whom he described as a operating "like a cartel in this market," for years. On Tuesday, Crist said, the insults and aggression continued. Enough, he decided.

His solution: Help Tallahassee revoke the PTC's state charter and remake it into a county agency with an appointed board with the power to regulate taxis and rideshare companies, which he hopes would remove legislative gridlock from the equation.

He said he wants to leave the PTC in November (county commissioners rotate spots on the board). Once he does leave, he said he'll join forces with the PTC's greatest foe: state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who has filed several bills to abolish the regulatory agency.

Minardi on Wednesday said Crist had an "emotional meltdown" during the meeting.

"I don't know what got him off on that tangent he went of on," Minardi said. "He's trying to pit Uber and Lyft against each other and us against them. And all of us see what he's trying to do."

Minardi said representatives from Uber called him after the meeting and said they were shocked by Crist's actions.

"He may think it's the right way to do things, but it's not," Minardi said. "And when we don't want to play that game, he goes on this emotional rollercoaster."

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.

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