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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Dump public transportation commission

It is dismaying, but not surprising, that the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission plans to spend $90,000 for a lobbyist to cover its flanks in Tallahassee. Without an influential lobbyist pleading the bureaucracy's case, lawmakers would have no trouble recognizing the commission should be abolished, just as Mayor Bob Buckhorn recommends. Former state Sen. Ronda Storms rightly pushed such an effort a few years ago, but unfortunately failed. There is no justification for the agency, which regulates taxis, ambulances, tow trucks and other vehicles. These are necessary chores, but Hillsborough is the only county in the state to require a separate agency to provide such oversight.
Hillsborough's setup, which includes three county commissioners, two Tampa City Council members and representatives from Temple Terrace and Plant City, politicizes the process. As Buckhorn says, its responsibilities could be absorbed by the county. Having it administered as a "normal agency," Buckhorn says, "would take politics and campaign contributions out of the picture." The board has an embarrassing history of ethical lapses. Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White was convicted on bribery charges related to his position on the Public Transportation Commission. A former City Council member, while serving on the commission, voted to reject an application from an ambulance company and soon afterward successfully submitted his own application to provide the same service. The commission has frequently limited competition, particularly when it comes to ambulance service, and has blocked such innovative transportation options as a free electrical vehicle service that produced revenue from tips. Hillsborough County Commissioner and PTC Chair Victor Crist says the agency protects consumers by conducting background checks on drivers and scrutinizing the finances of the transportation companies. But the county could easily handle such routine tasks, using the same fees paid by the transport companies to the PTC for regulatory costs. Buckhorn praises Crist's work as chairman, but rightly sees the Public Transportation Commission discourages competition and creates the potential for conflict. Since the board was established by the Legislature, it will require legislation to eliminate it. But lawmakers should have no trouble seeing that eliminating the agency can be done in a way that will, as the mayor says, "ultimately bring more competition while still retaining the oversight we need."
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