TAMPA – The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission is officially on the verge of dissolution since state Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, filed a bill on Dec. 9.
“The bill is straightforward,” a Dec. 9 Tampa Bay Business Journal article said. “If approved and signed by the Governor it would undo the Special Act under which the agency was created decades ago. The PTC would dissolve Oct. 1, 2017.”
The PTC regulates for-hire transportation services like taxicabs and limousines. In recent years, it has added transportation-network companies like Uber and Lyft to its repertoire, but has come under scrutiny with its lenient dealings with these sharing-economy companies.
As the controversy mounted, so did calls to abolish the agency.
The PTC has come under fire after a public-records request put forth by ride-share company Uber. Andrea Flynn Mogensen, an attorney with the Sarasota firm representing Uber, claimed the PTC had not responded to a request for documents between key PTC members and lobbyists and representatives of the local taxi and limousine industry.
According to an Oct. 31 article in Tampa Bay Business Journal, the public records in question are private emails and text messages allegedly stored on personal computers and cellphones of PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream.
As the Oct. 31 article explained, Mogensen's claims come after emails released through public records requests showed a series of interactions between Cockream and leaders of the local taxi industry, including his involvement in sting operations in which drivers working for Uber and Lyft, Uber's ride-share competitor company, were issued tickets for $700.
Mogensen urged county attorneys to safeguard the documents, citing concerns over the possibility that the PTC is retroactively amending official records and announced that Cockream will be resigning from the PTC at the end of December.
State Rep. Dana Young, R-Tallahassee, requested an investigation into the potential wrongdoing via Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Grant’s bill followed closely behind Young’s request.
Louis Minardi, president of Yellow Cab Company of Tampa Inc., said his company also filed suit against the PTC because the company is also trying to break into the transportation-network industry, including the ability to be able to enter into the same temporary operating agreement offered to companies like Uber and Lyft.
“We are amenable to considering the same or similar temporary rules and regulations for all Transportation Network Companies,” Minardi said in a Nov. 7 interview with Tampa Bay Business Journal.
Minardi has been addressing this issue for a while. In an April 2015 op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times, Minardi argued that taxi companies are no different than companies like Uber and Lyft.
“Traditional taxi companies may also be defined as transportation network companies (TNC) or technology companies because we also use smartphone apps to connect drivers with customers,” he said in his op-ed. “In fact, Yellow Cab Company of Tampa Inc. long ago broadened its online and digital presence with its own free mobile and smartphone app to better serve its customers with courteous, prompt and reliable transportation. Just as a ride-sharing company does, our app provides access to fare quotes, ratings and estimated time of arrival, including tracking the cab driver’s whereabouts.”
Minardi further said that there is no real difference between a taxi company and the sharing-economy companies.
“The reality is that a TNC, ride-share service — Uber, Lyft, SideCar, Yellow Cab, United and many others — are the same,” he said. “They are vehicles for hire. The word 'technology' is tantamount to a magic word that spin doctors and highly paid lobbyists throw around ill-informed legislators and other opinion leaders. The truth is that we all have the technology, and customers and drivers use it every day.”
With all of the scrutiny targeted at the PTC, especially with the alleged misconduct addressed by Reps. Young and Grant, it is unlikely the organization will make it out of the debate unscathed.
“In order to abolish the PTC, the bills filed by both Young and Grant will have to make it through several committee stops in their respective chambers, be approved by the full legislative bodies and then signed by the governor,” the Dec. 9 Tampa Bay Business Journal article said “Even if that doesn’t happen, it seems clear the PTC’s days are numbered.”