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Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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Legislation would get meddlesome PTC out of the way

Legislation to abolish Hillsborough County’s trouble-plagued Public Transportation Commission merits the support of the local delegation and the entire Legislature.

It is bad enough the bureaucracy is unnecessary and has chilled competition, but it’s also been marred by scandals and political shenanigans.

Hillsborough is the only county in the state that has a separate agency to regulate taxis, ambulances, tow trucks and other vehicles, a chore that could easily be handled by county government.

As state Rep. Jamie Grant of Tampa puts it, “The Public Transportation Commission has evolved from an agency designed to preserve public safety into an agency that is preventing competition in the market and restricting consumer choice.”

Grant and Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg are sponsoring legislation that would allow Hillsborough voters to eliminate the PTC in a referendum.

This isn’t a matter of lawmakers dictating local policy from afar. Many local officials, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, are fed up with the PTC. Moreover, voters would have the last word.

The PTC includes three county commissioners, two Tampa City Council members and representatives from Temple Terrace and Plant City.

Buckhorn believes the arrangement, where vendors can make campaign contributions to members, politicizes the process. In any event, the agency’s history is lamentable.

Former County Commissioner Kevin White was convicted on bribery charges related to his role on the agency. A former Tampa City Council member serving on the PTC once voted to reject an application from an ambulance company and then successfully submitted his own application to provide the same service. More recently, the agency’s longtime executive director quit after it was revealed he had been moonlighting on another job while calling in sick to his $107,000-a-year PTC job.

But beyond any misdeeds, the agency, as we’ve stressed before, often appears more interested in protecting franchises than promoting competition, innovation and lower fares.

As the Tribune’s Mike Salinero reports, Grant and Brandes were upset that Uber, a rapid-response car company that uses a smartphone application to better serve customers, decided to locate in Jacksonville because of PTC mandates. A particular concern was a requirement that all limousines and sedans charge a minimum $50 fee, a restriction that ensures only taxicabs get shorter trips, and prohibits limousines or other vehicles from serving that market.

The PTC demonstrated similar zeal for killing innovation a few years ago when it banned an electric vehicle service that offered free rides while generating revenue from advertising.

A few months ago the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit legal organization, filed suit against the PTC because of its minimum fee requirement, which has nothing to do with protecting citizens’ health and safety.

The group aptly said the PTC’s rules make it illegal for private companies to give “customers a better deal.”

The Grant-Brandes’ measure would free the marketplace of a meddlesome agency that has earned a trip to the trash heap.

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