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Hillsborough PTC head Kyle Cockream calls possible investigation into his conduct ‘a witch-hunt’

Despite the aims of Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission Chairman Victor Crist and county attorneys, Kyle Cockream is still the agency’s executive director, following a raucous board meeting Tuesday. The agency ultimately voted 3-2 to make a request for proposal to potentially hire a law firm at their next meeting next month to conduct an investigation into recent revelations about Cockream’s performance as the head of the agency.

Crist called last week for an emergency meeting of the PTC to discuss Cockream’s fate, following a series of media reports that showed he had used off-duty taxicab drivers in PTC ridesharing stings and made unauthorized trips to speak to the Palm Beach County Commission with officials of the cab and limo industry, among other revelations.

“Our agency’s integrity has been compromised from the top down,” Crist said at the beginning of the meeting. “The public have lost trust in our agency.” He then said that the best way to move forward would be an independent investigation the 12,000 emails that were recently released and have been the source for multiple news agencies (including SaintPetersBlog) depicting Cockream in a negative light.  He said it was “imperative that these allegations be addressed on an urgent basis.”

Crist said once the emails were made public several weeks ago, he asked PTC attorneys to pull out those they believed were “problematic.” The results, he said, “were shocking.”

When it was time for him to speak, Cockream let loose, describing the proceedings as “a circus” and a “witch-hunt.” He said he knew it was a witch-hunt because Crist told him two weeks ago that it “wouldn’t be a witch-hunt.”

“Mr. Crist and I have an extreme different version of some incidents that have happened,” he said.

Media reports have shown Cockream working with members of the taxicab and limousine industry he is charged with overseeing. Not only does he disagree with that perception, but so do the members of those industries, several of whom are featured in the emails. Many of those officials spoke out in support of him at todays’ meeting, while criticizing Crist.

Chief Assistant County Attorney Jennie Tarr came before the PTC and recommended five different law firms that could investigate the charges, offering different rates the respective firms or individuals attorneys would charge. She also mentioned the board could choose to terminate Cockream at the meeting, or allow him to resign.

And that’s where things got interesting.

“It seems like there’s a sense of a personal assault on the executive director’s character and integrity here today,” said Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick. “I hope the gentleman will have a chance to defend himself, because this is a sham what is taking place this morning. It’s been a sham of the stuff I read in the press.”

Reddick then questioned whether Tarr had any discussions with Crist before the meeting. She said she had one conversation after being asked by the county attorney to attend the meeting, but did not talk about any of the legal firms or other specific issues that had already been discussed.

Temple Terrace Councilmember David Pogorilich also strongly backed Cockream, saying that if he had come to him with his plans for using taxicab and limousine personnel to help with a sting operation, he was all for it. “Uber and Lyft are the ones who are breaking the rules. Uber and Lyft are the ones who are snubbing us. Uber and Lyft are the ones who are being noncooperative,” he said, referring to the fact that both ridesharing companies are considered by the PTC to be operating illegally (A proposed plan regarding background checks and other issues that has been endorsed by Uber will come before the PTC at their next scheduled meeting in November).

“Nothing has been done wrong here,” Pogorilich, comparing Uber and Lyft to Bonnie and Clyde. “But at the end of the day, they were just bank robbers.”

But Crist pushed back, saying that if the PTC didn’t do an investigation, “this agency will be guaranteed to be shut down by the Legislature during session. Guaranteed.”

Crist announced last month he would resign as chairman of the PTC in November. Reddick said good riddance, essentially: “It’s you who has taken this personally. I guarantee you, with you not sitting in that chair, it will be a better agency moving forward.”

“Probably a better agency for the cab companies, but not for the people we serve,” responded Crist.

Cockream defended himself from allegations he is working illicitly with the cab or limousine industries, saying that he has to honor public record requests, regardless of who is making such a request. “I can’t discriminate and not give up that information because it’s a cab company, or a limo company, or an ambulance company. I must relinquish that information.”

Ultimately, only Commissioner Ken Hagan joined with Crist in supporting a vote to immediately select a law firm, instead voting 3-2 to support Pogorilich’s motion to call for an RFP to look at hiring such firms next month. “The executive director should enforce the laws. However, knowing the agency’s history, the sensitivity with the ridesharing issue, and the public perception of the agency, the executive director should have the utmost prudence and discretion,” Hagan said. “I do not believe that happened here (board members Al Higginbotham and Nate Kilton were not present).

But the meeting wasn’t done. Crist went ahead and began discussing with Tarr the idea of putting Cockream on paid leave. That left the discussion about whether the board would need an interim director.

When Tarr mentioned she had already reached out to former interim PTC head David Jackson as a possibility, shouts of “conspiracy” were made by Reddick, who erupted, calling it “professionally unethical.”

Pogorilich said it was “orchestrated,” and again challenged Tarr about how many conversations, emails, or other messages she sent to Crist. Again, she said there had been only one previous conversation.

Board member Guido Maniscalco voted with Pogorilich and Reddick in opposing an immediate investigation or putting Cockream on paid leave. He said nothing during the meeting except when he was temporary chair. Afterwards, he said he voted the way he did because he thought the entire board should weigh in at one time.

The recent revelations prompted the agency’s numerous critics to pounce, and Tampa House District 60 Republican (and state Senate candidate) Dana Young has called for the FDLE to investigate the agency.

The PTC’s next meeting is Nov. 9.

 

Newly released emails show Hillsborough County PTC head’s cozy relationship with limo and taxicab industry

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission’s mandate is to regulate for-hire vehicles in the county, which includes taxicabs, limousines, and in the past couple of years, ridesharing companies — which the agency considers to be operating outside the law. But newly unearthed emails show that PTC executive director Kyle Cockream worked with the taxi cab and limo industry to advocate for their cause, against ridesharing companies.

“Make me an inspector, I’ll clean it up,” wrote Ray Sabb with Gulf Shore Limos in Sarasota, in an email to Cockream in January of this year. “Every trip I make to the airport I will challenge these moonlighters. Including the TNC guys. Wouldn’t that be a hoot. Limo driver and inspector … (No conflict here) …,” he wrote.

As was initially reported last week, Cockream ultimately DID use employees from the cab and limo industry to help the PTC bust Uber and Lyft drivers. That revelation compelled state Rep. Dana Young this week to ask the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the PTC. Now, a new batch of emails shows how Cockream communicated with officials in the cab and limo industry, seemingly as their advocate.

After Uber issued a statement to their supporters last October advocating that they attend an upcoming PTC workshop to tell the agency to support “sensible regulations,” Brook Negusei of Luxury Transportation of Tampabay forwarded the email to Cockream, writing that, “We should urge everyone in Hillsborough County to do the same.” Cockream responds, “Thanks, they are doing the same thing in Sarasota for their meeting tonight. Drivers need to attend the PTC meeting to have their voice heard if they expect change.”

When the Tampa Chamber of Commerce was hosting public policy discussion at the Holiday Inn in Westshore scheduled to feature representatives from Uber and the Tampa Bay Taxicab & Limousine Coalition last October, Cockream forwarded the press release to PTC staffer Kimberly Kerwin, with the instructions to, “Please send out to the industry as an FYI.”

Upon perusing a story written by Mike Salinero in the Tampa Tribune on New Year’s Eve of 2015 about how Uber would be employing its surge pricing model (which could result in its rates going up as much as three times the normal rate), Cockream forwarded the link to the story to Negusei with the admonition, “This article would be a good one to comment on if you feel so inclined, specifically concerning the availability of a luxury taxi, and that the minimum fare is now $30, not $50.”

Neguesei then writes back that he just got his “two cents” in the comments section of the story.

“Part of our work involves sharing information related to the for-hire transportation companies doing business legally in the county,” Cockream said Thursday. “Whether it’s sharing information related to meetings or news articles, our goal is to have information widely available as we all try to work toward a solution for rideshare companies to operate legally in the county. We encourage everyone to participate in the information-sharing process to have their voices heard.”

Officials with Uber didn’t take the same attitude.

“If one thing has become clear in the past week, it’s that there is a top-to-bottom culture of collusion at the PTC, which has actively worked to enrich special interests at the expense of people who rely on ridesharing,” said Uber spokesman Colin Tooze.

The recent revelations emanating from Cockream’s emails have prompted PTC Chairman Victor Crist to call for an emergency meeting next week.

 

Victor Crist calls for emergency meeting regarding Hillsborough PTC executive director Kyle Cockream

Rocked by recent revelations about Hillsborough County Public Transportation executive director Kyle Cockream, PTC board chairman Victor Crist is calling for an emergency meeting of the board next week to deal with the situation.

“I am scheduling an emergency meeting of the Public Transportation Commission Board with our legal counsel and germane support for the purpose of discussing recent allegations attacking the integrity, character, and independence of our director, staff, and board,” Crist wrote to PTC board members on Thursday.

Crist is calling for a meeting to be held either Oct. 26 or 27 at 9 a.m. Two PTC board members — Guido Maniscalco and Frank Reddick — serve on the Tampa City Council, which meets every Thursday at 9 a.m.

A large batch of emails regarding Cockream’s actions have been obtained by the media in the past week, with the biggest revelation being that the PTC used employees from local taxicab and limousine companies to assist in PTC-led sting operations to issue citations to Lyft and Uber drivers.

Other emails have revealed Cockream shared correspondence between the agency’s lobbying firm with cab companies on opposing state legislation that would legalize ridesharing.

Yet other emails revealed Cockream had coordinated with taxicab and limousine officials while addressing the Palm Beach County Commission at a ridesharing workshop, though he had previously said he was in Palm Beach on vacation and dropped in on the meeting.

Maniscalco says the most egregious revelation he’s seen is the report of using taxicab and limo officials to assist in citing ridesharing drivers. “Regarding the sting operation, it was just totally unnecessary to collaborate with the taxicab companies when we have a paid PTC staff inspector and whatnot who could have handled it on their own,” he said Thursday. “There was no need to do it.”

Maniscalco says he is less troubled by other reports that have surfaced with the emails.

Tampa House District 60 Republican Dana Young has called for an FDLE investigation into the agency after the reports, but Maniscalco dismisses that call as a “political thing.”

“I don’t know what the FDLE will find,” he said. “He made a mistake. I don’t know what the investigation will find.”

The PTC’s next regularly scheduled meeting is set for Nov. 9. That’s when they’re supposed to vote on a proposed temporary agreement Uber has approved that could finally provide the legal framework to legalize ridesharing in Hillsborough County.

Dana Young calls for FDLE investigation into Hillsborough County PTC

In the aftermath of published reports about questionable decisions made by Hillsborough County Public Transportation Executive Director Kyle Cockream over the past year, Tampa state Rep. Dana Young is calling for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to conduct an investigation into the agency.

“When the line is blurred between the regulator and the entities they regulate, the public cannot rely on impartiality in the government,” wrote Young in her letter to the FDLE. “The disturbing revelations of the relationship between the PTC, Mr. Cockream, and members of the taxi industry in Hillsborough County merit a full review to determine if ethical or legal boundaries have been violated.”

Among the revelations that came to light last week through a release of a large number of emails, was that Cockream coordinated with local taxicab and limousine firms to fine rideshare drivers. Members of those companies acted as would-be passengers and lured Uber and Lyft drivers to pick them up before PTC agents cited them. Officially, the PTC has considered Uber and Lyft to be operating illegally since they began operating in the county beginning in the spring of 2014.

Cockream also traveled twice to appear before the Palm Beach County Commission in the past year when that government body discussed ridesharing. He appeared at the same time in both meetings with representatives from the taxicab and limousine industry. The PTC’s mission is to regulate taxicab, limousine, and now ridesharing operations in an even, fair fashion.

“The PTC has a sordid history marred by scandals of former board members and conflicts of interest with previous senior agency personnel,” Young said in her letter. “The history of recurrent and pervasive improprieties by the PTC has resulted in multiple attempts by the Florida Legislature to repeal the regulatory body.”

The PTC was marred by a tawdry reputation for years long before Uber and Lyft ever came to Tampa. A former PTC board chairman — Kevin White — spent time in federal prison after being convicted in 2011 of accepting at least $6,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman seeking to curry favor with him in his official role. Incidents like that led some local leaders like Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to call for the agency to be dissolved. Those calls have been echoed by Tampa Bay area state legislators like Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant in recent years, who have proposed bills to do that, though such efforts have come up short.

Young, a South Tampa Republican, is now running for the state Senate 18 district race against Democrat Bob Buesing and independent candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove.

Through a spokesman, Cockream is offering no comment.

Kyle Cockream’s appearance before Palm Beach County Commissioners this year wasn’t his first time

(UPDATED with responses from Kyle Cockream).

When Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission Executive Director Kyle Cockream appeared in front of the Palm Beach County Commission on a ridesharing ordinance it was reviewing last April, some state lawmakers and officials with Uber questioned his visit, saying it had the appearance of taking sides in the now two-and-a-half year battle between the taxicab industry and the ridesharing companies in Hillsborough County.

Cockream said at the time he was in West Palm Beach for four days “on personal business” — but emails recently reviewed by SaintPetersBlog reveal he had been communicating with taxicab officials for a full week in advance of that meeting.

Cockream testified in front of the Palm Beach County Commission April 5. He was photographed sitting next to Louis Minardi, the president of Yellow Cab in Tampa. Minardi has hired attorneys to oppose PTC attempts to introduce regulations to legalize ridesharing.

But Cockream denied at the time that he was with Minardi.

“I was not there with Lou,” he said.

However, a review of Cockream’s emails in the week before his appearance in front of the Palm Beach County Commission show he shared exchanges with Minardi, Brock Rosayn, who runs Metro Taxi in Palm Beach County, and Ellyn Bogdanoff, a former state legislator and now a lobbyist with the taxicab industry in Palm Beach County.

SPB also learned it was not the first time Cockream appeared before the Palm Beach County Commission.

He also spoke in front that board July 21, 2015, when he criticized Uber for its reluctance to engage in Level II background checks — which continues to be an issue in Hillsborough County. Minardi and Rosayn spoke immediately after him at that meeting. And while Cockream has said he was on his own personal time when he spoke before the Palm Beach Commissioners in April, it appears his 2015 meeting could have been on PTC time.

On April 11 of this year, a week after his second appearance before the Palm Beach County Commission where he identified himself as executive director of the PTC, Cockream wrote to a county staffer that he needed to make an adjustment on his Kronos account. Kronos is a electronic timekeeping system to monitor employee records.

“I recently noticed on July 21, 2015, I was off and and my Kronos apparently does not reflect that. How do I submit a change form?” he requested to Deborah Mingo in an email entitled, “Kronos Adjustment.”

“This request, made in April, was tied to a review I did of 2015 work time, to ensure that everything was properly documented,” Cockream says. “In that process, I found that one day was incorrectly notated, so I requested that the day be moved from PTC to personal time. I did this via email to ensure transparency.”

After SPB and WFLA-TV reported on Cockream’s appearance in Palm Beach County in April, he suddenly announced he would be resigning from the agency in July, but has subsequently said he would step down at the end of this year. At last month’s PTC meeting, however, he said he would stay on until March 2018.

On Friday, Hillsborough County Commission Chair Victor Crist said PTC attorneys last week went through a batch of emails and discovered a number of troubling issues.

One set of issues was the report in Friday’s Tampa Bay Times that revealed Cockream had been coordinating with local taxicab and limousine firms to conduct sting operations against Uber and Lyft drivers. Another was the visit to Palm Beach County Commissioners.

At the time of that appearance in Palm Beach County, Crist told SPB Cockream “just basically told me that he was down there for a few days with family, visiting friends, got a phone call from one of his colleagues who’s a regulator, asking him his opinion on some things, found out that he was in Fort Lauderdale, and invited him to the meeting, so he went.”

Crist said Friday the release of the emails reveal he had been misinformed by Cockream.

“It was shocking to me, it was embarrassing to me, and it was extremely concerning to me,” he said, adding that he wants to give Cockream a chance to explain what happened and why. He also wants to give PTC attorneys and consultants time to review what is appropriate and what proper recourse the PTC should take.

Crist says he would support a motion to launch an investigation, and says that will probably have to come up at the board’s next meeting scheduled for next month. That’s the same day the PTC board is scheduled to vote on a temporary operating agreement Uber has approved that would allow them continue to operate legally in the county. The board could reject that proposal and vote on a set of rules that include fingerprint-based background checks that Uber and Lyft oppose.

“If one thing has become clear in the past 24 hours, it’s that the PTC has consistently colluded with entrenched special interests at the expense of people who rely on ridesharing,” Uber spokesman Colin Tooze said. “Based on these recent revelations, the PTC owes the public a full and transparent accounting of how it conducts its operations and all conflicts of interest.”

The series of emails released last week shows Cockream had engaged in discussions about the Palm Beach County appearance for a full week. In an email exchange with Carol Vallee of Checker Leasing in St. Pete Beach on April 4, he wrote,”I’m headed to West Palm to speak to commission members today and Tuesday.”

On Friday, April 1, Rosayn forwarded an email to Cockream and Minardi headlined, “Uber info for meeting.”

On Tuesday, April 29, Cockream received an email from Minardi regarding an Associated Press story about Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport stepping up background checks for Uber drivers. That original email had also been sent to Ellyn Bogdanoff, a former state legislator turned lobbyist for the taxicab industry in Palm Beach County.

SaintPetersBlog reported in April a contact log for the 12th floor of the Palm Beach County government building for Monday, April 4, showed Cockream signing in, where he says he met with Commissioner Shelly Vana. The log showed later in the day that Bogdanoff signed in as well, where she said she was meeting with Commissioner Stephen Abrams.

Cockream says he did not meet with Bogdanoff. “She was in one or two of the rooms that I was in. She was speaking with council members. I did not meet her.”

When he came before Palm Beach County Commissioners, two of them – Mayor Mary Lou Berger and Commissioner Hal Valeche – asked why was the man who ran the Hillsborough County PTC doing at their discussion on ridesharing?

“Mr. Cockream, how did you come to be here today at this meeting? Did you just hear about it and decide to drive across the state?” asked Berger. Cockream said he was there to serve as a “resource,” and referred to his previous 29 years in law enforcement before becoming the PTC Chair. “I know about as much as fingerprinting … as anyone in this room.”

Berger also asked if he was to invited by the cab companies to appear before the commission. “More specifically, I was invited to speak by Mr. Rosayn.”

Commissioner Caleche then  questioned why Cockream was weighing on a Palm Beach County ordinance.

“We’re conducting this like a trial, and Mr. Cockream is acting like an expert witness, and we’re relying on his testimony,” he told his board members.“We’re talking about the ordinance, not about what’s going on in Tampa and Hillsborough County, and let’s stick to the ordinance.”

 

Cockream responded via email on Friday night that,”My appearance at a Palm Beach County Commission meeting last spring was to share knowledge about rideshare regulatory issues, and to talk about fingerprint background checks, which are mandated by state law in Hillsborough,” he wrote. “My appearance was not planned far ahead of time. I was copied on several emails a few days before the meeting as part of general industry information-sharing, before I was requested to speak. The comments I made at the meeting were my own.”

 

Bill Galvano backs statewide ride-sharing legislation

Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano will push for ridesharing legislation, saying this week the state needs a “single, unified approach” to the new transportation sector.

In a guest editorial in The Bradenton Herald, Galvano said if Florida wants to continue to attract the next generation of innovators, the state “must solidify, through legislation and strategic partnerships, an ecosystem that supports companies defining their own path.”

The Bradenton Republican said in the past the state has chosen to “actively engage and help bring” innovators’ visions, like Walt Disney World and the Moffit Cancer Center, to fruition. Galvano said the state is now faced with another issue in the ridesharing arena.

“Last year alone, Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing companies provided millions of trips for Florida residents and visitors. It is clear that Floridians enjoy these services and support their growth,” he wrote in the guest editorial. “However, in some Florida communities, small but powerful special interests are fighting innovation, choosing to create a path of obstacles rather than a strategic partnership with the state that fosters growth.”

Galvano pointed to Hillsborough County as an example of a community limiting growth, saying the Public Transportation Commission there will “soon consider increased local regulations that threaten consumer choice.”

“These regulations are not aimed at increasing the safety of our citizens or creating fairness in the industry as many would have you believe; rather, they are designed to stifle innovation and attempt to fit a new and disruptive approach to transportation into an archaic set of regulations and a framework that simply does not fit,” he wrote.

Galvano went on to say it is clear the state should establish “a single, unified approach to welcoming ridesharing and other groundbreaking services so our residents and guests know what they can expect as they travel from one community to another.”

“As majority leader of the Florida Senate, I am determined that our Legislature will soon enact a single, uniform set of reasonable standards for the ridesharing industry, that both protect our citizens and foster growth for the companies involved,” he wrote in his editorial. “No longer will we have a confusing amalgamation of state and local regulations that hurt competition and ultimately hamper the growth of our state economy and advancing technology.”

Lawmakers have tried to push through legislation aimed at regulating Uber and other ride-hailing technologies in recent years, but those efforts have failed.

A proposal passed the House during the 2016 legislative session that would have addressed insurance concerns, but included a provision that blocked local authorities, like the Hillsborough PTC, from regulating the services.

David Jolly announces federal grant for PSTA-Lyft partnership for disabled bus riders

David Jolly
David Jolly

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) will receive a $500,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration for a pilot program to provide “real time” transportation to disabled customers so they can get to work, the doctor, and other necessary places.

“This is a great day for Pinellas County, but an even greater day for the residents of Pinellas County” who will use the service, U.S. Rep. David Jolly said in announcing the award.

Jolly, a Republican who represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District, said the grant was an example of bipartisan collaboration.

Janet LongPinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, a Democrat, agreed, saying, “This is an example of how, with partners, you can do more.”

The grant will pay for the majority of a pilot program that partners the PSTA with Lyft, United Taxi, and Care Ride. The PSTA will provide the additional $125,000 to make up the $625,000 program cost.

Currently, the PSTA has about 12,500 total para-transit passengers who take more than 1,000 rides a day. Under the current system, those passengers — who cannot ride traditional buses — must call PSTA at least 24 hours in advance for an appointment with the DART program. A DART vehicle then comes to their home and takes them to work, the doctor, or other destination.

Under the pilot program, para-transit passengers would not have to give 24 hours’ notice, just calling PSTA when they need a ride. PSTA will call Lyft, United Taxi, or Care Ride depending on the needs of the passenger. That vehicle would immediately come pick up the rider and take them to their destination.

“It will really help these riders,” said Brad Miller, PSTA CEO.

Patti JohnsonPatti Johnson, a Pinellas Park council member who sits on the PSTA board, agreed the new program would help disabled riders. It’s important, Johnson said, to make sure those who are transportation disadvantaged can find ways to get to work, medical appointments and other places when needed.

Miller said the program will likely begin late this year or early next year.

PSTA already partners with Uber, another ridesharing company, in its Direct Connect and TD Late Shift programs.

Direct Connect uses Uber and United Taxi as a link between peoples’ homes in areas underserved by bus routes and bus stops. Under the program, PSTA pays half the fare, up to $3, for a taxi or Uber vehicle to pick someone up and drop them at a designated bus stop (and take them home from the stop).

Brad MillerTD Late Shift is a pilot program funded by a $300,000 grant from the commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (TD). It is aimed at helping low-income, unemployed residents overcome transportation barriers to employment. Riders can request up to 23 free rides per month between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., hours when bus service is unavailable. Rides must be to a place of employment or residence.

Miller said programs such as TD Late Shift, Direct Connect and the new program for disabled riders have given the PSTA a national reputation for being “one of the most innovative transportation systems in the country.”

sandbox-group-photo

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

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.

Will Ken Hagan save ridesharing in Hillsborough?

They say the past is prologue. If that’s true, past votes and actions by Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission can give us a glimpse at how the showdown over ridesharing may unfold.

And it looks like it could all be in the hands of one board member: Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan.

Oct. 13 is the date of the public hearing that could determine the future of ridesharing in Hillsborough County. That’s when the PTC is expected to vote to finalize new regulations for ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft. Among the contentious issues are Level II background checks and Public Vehicle Driver Licenses.

Five votes in favor of the new regulations allowed the plan to advance to this point, with only Hagan and Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco in dissent.

Hagan has shown a preference for wanting to reach a settlement both parties can agree on. He supported opening negotiations to develop a temporary operating agreement between the PTC and ridesharing companies, rather than simply adopting a scheme that one side or the other would end up hating.

With the board seemingly split down the middle on the proposed regulations, Hagan has a real opportunity to listen to the wishes of his constituents and come out a hero on behalf of innovation.

The people of Hillsborough County have spoken out pretty clearly in support of ridesharing. They use it — all the time. Thousands have signed a petition to keep their community from becoming the next Austin, which Uber and Lyft earlier left earlier this year due to similar enforced regulations by a city council that wouldn’t embrace innovation.

This is Hagan’s opportunity to listen to the those in the community who disapprove of competition-limiting regulations. Earlier this month the head of government affairs and policy for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce spoke out against the PTC and the taxicab industry in Hillsborough, declaring that there’s no excuse for the commission “to limit any further economic growth of a region by over-regulating an industry that’s being rightfully challenged by innovation.”

Proponents of the regulations include PTC member and Temple Terrace Councilman David Pogorilich, who has cited safety as the main concern for constituents. However, the thousands of Uber and Lyft supporters reject the claim that the regulations are anything more than a stifling ploy to reduce competition and inhibit innovation.

In just a few months, the Legislature is expected to take a comprehensive look at ridesharing from a statewide perspective. So in the meantime, there’s really no need for the PTC to adopt regulations that will divide the community.

If it’s all in Ken Hagan’s hands, let’s hope he sides with the future — and the public.

HART board member Kathleen Shanahan latest to call for abolishing PTC

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission’s vote last week to approve new rules that could compel ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to leave the area has given new life to those who believe the agency should be abolished.

The latest entrant in that camp is HART board member Kathleen Shanahan, who, in a letter published in Monday’s Tampa Bay Times, invokes the U.S. Constitution in arguing why the PTC should not be imposing any rules on the transportation network companies.

“The rationale behind the interstate commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution is to promote fluid commerce between states for those doing business in multiple states,” Shanahan writes. “For the exact same reason, ridesharing companies doing business in multiple Florida counties should be subject to statewide standards, not inconsistent county-by-county rules that potentially impede regional commerce.”

In a letter calling on the PTC to resist passing the regulations (which include Level II background checks which include fingerprinting drivers) last week, Tampa Republican state Representative Dana Young said that the agency should hold off and wait for the state Legislature to address the issue in the 2017 session. A year ago the PTC essential made that decision – they opted not to pass new rules, and also said they would no longer issue citations to Uber and Lyft drivers – until the Legislature dealt with the issue in the 2016 session.

That never happened, however, as talks broke down in committee with bills sponsored by Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz in the House and Altamonte Springs’ Dave Simmons in the Senate.

Shanahan was named by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to serve as the City of Tampa representative on the HART board in October of 2014. A former chief of staff to both former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, Shanahan has definitely made her presence felt at HART meetings, particularly in making sure that the agency has fostered good relationships with lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington D.C. to secure federal and state money for the transit agency.

Shanahan’s call for the PTC to be abolished echoes similar comments made over the years by Buckhorn, as well as Tampa Bay area state Republicans like Senator Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant.Those two lawmakers have been unsuccessful in recent years in trying to get legislation passed to kill the agency.

“This is a perfect example of government run amok,” Brandes wrote in August of 2015 on his Facebook page after the agency resumed citing Uber and Lyft drivers. “Enough is enough. I’m drafting sweeping legislation to reform the PTC. It’s time our leaders stood up on behalf of our residents, tourists, and businesses to make sure Tampa Bay has the most robust network of transportation options available.”

The PTC is the only agency of its type in Florida. It was created by the state Legislature in 1976 as a Special Act, which means that the Legislature has the power to end it.

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