The taxi industry has been hit hard by on-demand services such as Uber and Lyft. Stefan Tarnell / Flickr
One of the lawyers working with ridesharing company Uber is sending warnings via a letter to other county attorneys over the way the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission (PTC) handles the public records requests submitted to its office.
Andrea Flynn Mogense sent letters to county lawyers Cindy Oster and Stephen Todd, advising the pair to ensure that their documents and those of their clients are protected and safe. The Uber attorney shared that the Hillsborough PTC has been unresponsive on the requests she filed for public documents. These records included text messages and emails exchanged among PTC members, namely, David Pogorilich, Al Higginbotham and Frank Reddick. Some lobbyists and representatives from the taxi and limousine industries were part of the exchanges as well.
Apart from these concerns, Mogense also alleged that there are private text messages and emails sent by Kyle Cockream, the executive director of the Hillsborough PTC, using his personal computers and cellphones. The Uber attorney claimed that the director is avoiding the release of these messages.
“We urge you to take all appropriate steps to immediately safeguard these documents from any tampering, deletion, or destruction — including documents housed on private servers, devices and accounts," wrote Mogensen in her letter, according to the Business Journals.
The letter from Mogensen came after documents obtained via the public records requests revealed the exchanges between Cockream and other leaders of the local taxi industry. The information gathered from the conversations included the plan of the two parties to collude in conducting sting operations against Uber and Lyft. This resulted in the drivers of the ridesharing services having to pay for tickets worth $700 each.
The details of these exchanges pushed state Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, to seek help from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in an effort to determine the presence of possible impropriety. For its part, the Hillsborough PTC agreed with the request. The parties concerned arranged to use the services of an outside investigating firm to determine the authenticity of the claims regarding inappropriate relationships among taxi leaders and the PTC members. Amid the investigation, Cockream announced in November that he intends to vacate his position by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, filed a bill in December to abolish the PTC. If it passes, then the state would have to repeal the 1976 special act that allowed Hillsborough to be the only county in Florida to have an agency of that nature. This bill, which was supported by Young, would also transfer the power to regulate the vehicles and ridesharing services to the Hillsborough County government.
"Uber and Lyft was one of the symptoms of a regulatory agency that was no longer functioning as it should, but it certainly was not the only symptom. The public has lost all faith and confidence in the agency,” Young said of her support of Grant’s bill, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
As for the PTC, new board chairman Al Higginbotham shared his belief that they remain relevant in the county. He explained via the Tampa Bay Times, “If you are unlawfully towed or have a bad experience with a for-hire transportation service in Pinellas, Manatee or other area county, you have no recourse except to complain to the company providing the service. But in Hillsborough County, the PTC — created through a special act by the Legislature — serves as a third-party agency to help consumers."