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Monday, Dec 22, 2014
Editorials

Take PTC to the junkyard

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A lawsuit filed this week against the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission illustrates how the busybody agency makes it illegal for businesses to give “customers a better deal.”

The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit legal organization, makes a powerful case that the commission’s arbitrary requirements violate Florida’s constitution.

But it shouldn’t take the possibility of prolonged litigation to stop this travesty.

State lawmakers should get rid of the bureaucracy, which regulates taxis, ambulances, tow trucks and other vehicles. No other Florida county requires a separate agency to handle those responsibilities, which could easily be assumed by county government. Hillsborough’s approach simply has not proved necessary or effective.

The PTC, which includes three county commissioners, two Tampa City Council members and representatives from Temple Terrace and Plant City, too often appears more interested in protecting franchises than promoting competition, innovation and lower fares.

The Institute for Justice’s lawsuit is a case in point. One of the plaintiffs runs a small limousine operation that wants to be able to charge modest fares for short trips.

But the PTC’s requirement that limousines and sedans charge a minimum of $50 ensures that only taxicab companies get such business.

Uber, a rapid-response car company that uses a smartphone app to better serve customers, has decided to locate in Jacksonville because of the PTC minimum charge dictate.

Protecting the status quo, not customers, too often looks to be the priority.

A few years ago when taxi companies complained, the board banned an electric vehicle service that provided free rides while making money from advertising.

The commission has consistently limited competition for ambulance service business.

The Institute for Justice argues the PTC’s $50 minimum fee violates the due process clause of the Florida Constitution, infringing on affected drivers’ rights for no legitimate government purposes. Similarly, the organization holds that the minimum fare rule violates the equal protection clause by restricting limousines but not taxis or even luxury taxis.

Justin Pearson, the state executive director for the Institute for Justice, says the lawsuit doesn’t contest the PTC’s authority to protect the health and safety of the public.

But he pointedly adds, “It should not be illegal to give customers a good deal.”

Lawmakers should attend his words — and the PTC’s sad history of conflicts and scandal.

Former County Commissioner Kevin White was convicted on bribery charges related to his role on the PTC. A former Tampa City Council member voted on the PTC board to reject an application from an ambulance company and then successfully submitted his application to provide the same service.

There have been questionable contracts and raises. This week Executive Director Cesar Padilla announced his retirement after it was revealed he was moonlighting as reserve deputy sheriff, often on days that he was listed as being on the job or had called in sick.

We give Hillsborough County Commissioner and PTC Chairman Victor Crist credit for trying to professionalize procedures. He responded to the latest problems by requesting an audit of its operations.

But the PTC is a lost cause. Lawmakers’ next session should tow this wreck of an agency to the junk yard.

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