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

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.

 

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.
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