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Joe Henderson: Hillsborough rideshare decision could rest with ‘problem solver’ Ken Hagan

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Ken Hagan has been elected five times to the Hillsborough County Commission. That ought to say something about the way voters feel he takes care of both his and the public’s business.

Headlines tend to find him because he always seems to be involved in something important, but I wouldn’t say he seeks out publicity. Not at all. He tends to fly at treetop level, quietly working to get things done.

And as Peter Schorsch of this great website just noted, Hagan now potentially finds himself as the key vote to moving ahead, finally, with an agreement that could end the standoff between the Public Transportation Commission and ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.

Here’s what I know about Hagan: He is a pragmatist who solves problems. He doesn’t get ruffled. He is sharp, well-informed, and not afraid to swim against the tide.

As a member of the PTC, Hagan now finds himself in the position for which he is well-suited — that of being a voice of reason. The PTC, as you probably know, has tried (and largely failed) to bring Uber and Lyft under the same umbrella as taxi and limo companies, mostly on the issue of background checks and the rates its drivers should charge.

That has ignored a fundamental truth — Uber and Lyft have as much in common with taxi companies as a plow horse has with a Kentucky Derby winner. Sure, you can ride both of them, but that’s where the comparison ends.

Since consumers just like the ride-sharing companies better, Uber and Lyft have leveraged that into a considerable lead in the battle for public opinion approval. People, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, are openly calling for the PTC to be disbanded. Critics call it archaic.

It’s a perfect situation for someone like Hagan to take the lead in reaching a settlement that makes at least most of the people happy.

I should admit I haven’t always agreed with Hagan. He took the lead on offering public subsidies to Bass Pro Shops in exchange for the company putting a store in Brandon. I thought then, and still think now, that it undercut mom-and-pop stores that specialized in outdoor and fishing gear.

After all, if it makes financial sense to open a business in a certain location — and judging by the traffic I regularly see at Bass Pro in Brandon, it certainly did — then why offer public incentives?

I will agree, though, that Hagan honestly saw it as the only way to attract a business he felt was beneficial for the area.

And I also will admit that I am glad to see Hagan involved in stadium talks with the Tampa Bay Rays in Hillsborough. I think his pragmatic approach will be in evidence there, too. If they ever reach a deal, it won’t look anything like the giveaway the county reached 20 years ago with the Bucs to build Raymond James Stadium.

First things first, though. Getting a deal done with Uber and Lyft is important for the county. Having it potentially in Hagan’s hands is not a bad thing.

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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