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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
Editorials

Editorial: Ending PTC regulatory abuse

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Florida lawmakers should approve a measure that would prevent the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission from stomping out competition and blocking new technology.

As sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes tells us, “It shouldn’t be against the law to give people a good deal.”

But that’s precisely what the scandal-plagued PTC, which regulates taxis, ambulances, tow trucks and other vehicles, does.

This legislation would stop its most egregious regulatory abuse.

At issue is the PTC requirement that limousines and sedans charge a minimum of $50, which is aimed at ensuring only taxicabs get lower-fare business.

The rule has frustrated limousine operations that want to provide short-trip, low-cost service.

The minimum rate rule caused Uber, a rapid-response transport company that uses a smartphone app to serve customers, to locate in Jacksonville instead of Tampa.

Brandes, who represents parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, says, “We want to be a high-tech corridor, but we don’t want to do high-tech things.” He points out that such economical, innovative services are important to making the area a dynamic destination.

Brandes last year pushed legislation to eliminate the PTC, which the local legislative delegation unfortunately did not endorse.

But his proposal — an amendment to legislation dealing mostly with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services — is no back-door attempt to bypass the delegation vote.

It would not get rid of the PTC or affect its authority, other than its current policy of outlawing good transit deals.

The measure prohibits a legislatively created agency such as the PTC from restricting “the right of the public to freely bargain for lawful livery transit services, excluding metered taxi services that accept street hails, by establishing a minimum or maximum fare ...”

The PTC’s policy is legally questionable.

The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit legal organization, is suing the PTC, claiming its minimum fare dictates violate the state constitution.

Although this provision would improve matters, we still think it’s unfortunate that the local delegation did not go along with the plan to junk the PTC, as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has advocated.

The agency’s legitimate responsibilities — ensuring safe, professional operations — could be easily handled by the county commission.

The PTC has seemed more concerned with protecting the status quo than consumers. A few years ago, it banned an electric vehicle service that provided free rides while making money from advertising after taxi companies complained.

It has limited ambulance service competition.

And it’s no surprise, given the agency’s control of lucrative contracts, that it has been plagued by conflicts and scandals, including the conviction of former County Commissioner Kevin White on bribery charges related to his PTC duties.

Hillsborough would be better off without this meddlesome agency, but Brandes’ proposal would at least end some of its anti-competition abuses.

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