The troubled Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission received a terminal diagnosis Friday after members of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation voted unanimously for a local bill that would eliminate the agency on December 31, 2017.
After that, the County Commission would pick up its regulatory duties.
“The public has lost complete faith in the ability of this agency to regulate credibly, equitably and efficiently,” said bill sponsor James Grant said before the entire delegation vote in support of his bill.
The proposal was similar to a previous bill Grant brought to the local delegation in 2013 that sought to put a stake through the heart of the agency, but with a significant difference.
The local bill approved on Friday gives the county and the PTC a full year to contend with the transition.
“It’s not about moving fast. We want to make sure we avoid any unintended consequences,” Grant said. That was in notable contrast to the 2013 version, which would have killed the agency immediately, making it a bridge too far for other legislators to support, even with noted PTC critics like Dana Young.
“I think the plan is to subcontract the regulation out to Uber, isn’t it?” asked Brandon Senator Tom Lee, eliciting the largest round of laughter of the morning.
Although meant for humorous effect, there’s no question that the addition of Uber and Lyft into the county ultimately was the beginning of the end for the PTC, which was already burdened with a toxic reputation well before the emergence of ride-sharing in Hillsborough County.
Among the previous lowlights that had saddled the PTC came in 2010, when Cesar Padilla, then the executive director of the agency, resigned after it was reported that he had been moonlighting as a security guard.
There was also the case of former County Commissioner Kevin White, was busted in 2008 for taking bribes for helping tow company operators to get permits in his role as PTC chair. White ended up serving three years at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.
The PTC caught the attention of lawmakers like Grant and Jeff Brandes after the PTC went after Uber when it introduced its Uber Black limo service during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The PTC shut that effort down quickly.
Those lawmakers became incredibly irritated with the PTC and its (now former) chairman Victor Crist over the past few years, as Uber and Lyft refused to comply with PTC regulations. That led to PTC agents citing those drivers, leading to court actions and more than two years of fighting before an agreement bringing both companies into compliance occurred last month.
At Friday’s meeting, County Commission Chairman Stacy White said, “the county stands prepared to take over regulation of this industry and create a meaningful regulatory framework.”
“I think that those types of things would be able to be implemented by the county with relative ease,” White said. “We do stand prepared to create a lean, regulatory framework.”
The PTC has been funded by fees paid by the taxicab and limousine companies, not directly by taxpayers. Plant City Republican Representative Dan Raulerson asked White if the county would continue to fund their regulatory efforts in the same fashion.
“We certainly do have the ability to charge various permitting fees to offset the costs of the regulatory process,” White said.
“It seems like a good move in broadening out transportation options,” added recently elected Commissioner Pat Kemp.
“I support it, and I realize that there are 66 other counties in the state of Florida that have figured out how to do this,” said Tea Party activist Sharon Calvert. “Let’s get it done.”