Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commissioner executive director Kyle Cockream will reportedly discuss his plans to step down from the agency at Wednesday’s PTC meeting.
A rumor circulating Monday was that Cockream was resigning, but Kyle Parks, a spokesman for the agency, says that isn’t accurate. He says that Cockream has been speaking with Hillsborough PTC Chair Victor Crist about retiring “for months.”
Cockream’s decision comes on the same day that FloridaPolitics.com reported that Cockream spent two days last week speaking to Palm Beach County Commissioners about issues with ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft at the behest of Brock Rosayn, who runs Metro Taxi in Palm Beach County.
The PTC has been attempting over the past two years to come up with a regulatory framework that can allow Uber and Lyft to work under the same guidelines of taxicab and limousine companies, who the commission has always been responsible for regulating. The cab industry in Hillsborough has been clamoring for the PTC to come down harder on Uber and L yet, and recently the agency began citing their drivers for operating out of compliance with the PTC’s rules.
Parks denies that the report has anything to do with Cockream’s decision to retire now.
“This has nothing to do with this whole thing in West Palm Beach,” Parks said. “He’s been talking about retiring sometime soon for months.”
Perhaps so, but his decision comes just four months after the PTC board awarded him a 7-percent raise in his salary.
PTC Chairman Victor Crist says Cockream first discussed retirement in January, but he said he wanted him to stick around at least to see if anything was done regarding Uber and Lyft during the legislative session.
“It has nothing whatsoever to do with what was going on in Fort Lauderdale,” Crist said.
“He 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.
Two Palm Beach County Commissioners questioned why Cockream was even speaking before them last Tuesday, unsure of his role.
“We’re conducting this like a trial, and Mr. Cockream is acting like an expert witness, and we’re relying on his testimony,” said Commissioner Hal Valeche. “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 said he was in Palm Beach County on personal business, and was only there to offer himself as a “resource.”
The Hillsborough PTC has been criticized for years as a bloated government agency, and some local politicians (including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn) have been calling for its elimination for some time.
Before Uber & Lyft even came on to the scene, calls for the agency to go grew after former chairman Kevin White was indicted on federal charges of corruption in 2011. The indictment stated that White used his position on the PTC to take bribes in return for favors to a towing company.
Then there was the problem with previous executive director Cesar Padilla’s moonlighting escapades, which led him to resign in September 2013.
Cockream took over in spring 2014, about the same time that Uber and Lyft began operating in Hillsborough. The PTC has been entangled in a bitter back-and-forth dispute with the rideshare companies since that, and officially, both Uber and Lyft are operating illegally in the county.
Cockream was seen at the Palm Beach County Commission meeting with Louis Menardi, the president of Yellow Cab in Tampa. But Cockream denied he was with Menardi.
A spokesman for Uber said the entire sequence reeked of a conflict of interest.
“Mr. Cockream was lobbying on behalf of the taxi industry, at the invitation of a taxi owner, and alongside the President of the largest taxi company in Hillsborough County against sensible ridesharing regulations proposed by policymakers in a jurisdiction 200 miles away,” said Uber’s Bill Gibbons.
Cockream did not return our call for comment.