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Hillsborough Republican lawmakers mixed on PTC future

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

(UPDATED) Last month, Florida Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes and Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commissioner (PTC)  Victor Crist discussed their opinions on how to regulate Transportation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft.

They met at Shula’s Steakhouse in Tampa’s Westshore district, and both have said  they enjoyed themselves and came to common cause on several issues regarding the regulation of the ridesharing companies going into the 2016 legislative session.

Since those discussions, the PTC has announced it’s postponing further litigation with Uber until lawmakers in Tallahassee pass a bill dealing with issues such as  insurance and background checks.

FloridaPolitics.com reported on those points last week. However, we also reported that Brandes still intends to go forward with his legislation to eliminate the PTC, which was created by the Legislature in 1976 and can be eliminated by the Legislature.

Crist was stunned to learn that Brandes still intends to do so.

“Frankly I find it shocking, because in the legislative process a lot of decision dealmaking is made with a handshake, and your word is your bond,” Crist said in a telephone message to this reporter Friday afternoon. “And he gave us his word that that would be the deal, and I delivered. And now it’s his turn, so for him to welsh on that is completely shocking.”

Brandes responded to Crist later on Thursday.

“My position has always been clear on the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission,” he send in an email message. “I believe it is an antiquated, unnecessary, and burdensome regulatory body which stifles transportation options in Tampa Bay and therefore should be repealed. However in my conversations with Hillsborough County there appears to be no willingness to assume the responsibilities of the PTC. My objective is to provide more transportation options for the public in our region. I remain committed to working towards an amicable solution and my door is always open to the PTC and Chairman Crist to discuss how to accomplish this objective.”

Acting as a bit of go-between at Shula’s was Plant City House Republican Dan Raulerson, chairman of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation. He told this reporter in no uncertain terms he would not participate in a “he-said, he-said” situation.

“I will say that the conversation was very amicable, that it was the first time that the two of them were able to get together and speak directly about certain issues,” Raulerson said this week.

Two years ago, Brandes and Hillsborough/Pinellas state Rep. Jamie Grant attempted to abort the PTC at a legislative delegation meeting at USF. They didn’t get that far with the local group, however, because Democrats and Republicans alike said they weren’t prepared to take such a radical step.

Raulerson opposed it as well, and says that there must be a game plan on what happens next if the Legislature were to kill the agency.

“Unless there is one that will segue into how the Hillsborough County Commission will absorb it, I would be reticent to vote for an elimination of the PTC,” he said. “It wasn’t that I want to preserve the PTC for the PTC’s sake, certainly, but there needs to be a discussion about hwo we regulate public transportation and do it amicably.”

Another Hillsborough County Republican, state Rep. Dana Young, also says she’s not willing to support a proposal to eliminate the agency, though her patience with it is growing thin.

“Look, I think that we need to regulate public transportation services,” she said. “It matters not to me who does the regulations, so long as they do it properly and well and efficiently.”

Young said the regulatory structure of the PTC doesn’t bother her significantly, but that if the agency continues to attempt to stifle what the public wants, then it might be worthwhile to look for a viable alternative.

She’s not there quite yet, though she did raise a ruckus this week in reaction to an advertorial the PTC paid to run in Tampa Bay Business Journal.

“I’m willing to give them another shot, but when I saw that advertising, I thought, this is absurd,” she said.

The Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation is scheduled to meet Dec. 8 at the Amalie Arena.

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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