The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission is poised to begin increasing fines on Uber and Lyft drivers soon, and that’s not going down well with one of the agency’s biggest critics, state Sen. Jeff Brandes.
The St. Petersburg Republican has frequently criticized the PTC over the years for their confrontational stance towards the two ridesharing companies, and he said on Monday he intends to file legislation to prohibit the actions of special district agencies like the PTC, who he says “stand in the way of innovation in our state.”
“The Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission continues to bury their collective heads in the sand, ignoring the outcry of support from their constituents who support rideshare services like Uber and Lyft,” Brandes said in a Facebook posting “The PTC is standing in the way of services which have been proven to reduce DUIs and make our roads safer. The Public Transportation Commission is the very definition of crony capitalism, and we cannot allow this blatant corruption to continue.”
Last week, the PTC rules committee unanimously approved a proposal to increase the fines charged to ridesharing drivers who get cited by PTC agents from $700 to $900, while the fine for allowing the operation of a vehicle without a permit would also rise from $200 to $400. The proposal was introduced by Temple Terrace City Council member David Pogolirich. The two companies have never been fully in compliance with PTC rules regarding insurance and background checks since they began operating in Hillsborough County since 2014, despite several attempts to come to an agreement. PTC Chair Victor Crist thought he had a deal set in May, but that failed to come to fruition.
The state Legislature has also failed to come up with statewide regulations regarding the companies, setting the stage for each individual county in the state to attempt to find a way to get them into compliance with their rules.
Crist has had to deal with issues of his own in recent months, surviving a vote that called for him to resign from the board for recent comments he made about dissolving the agency, as well as a legal challenge by a coalition of taxi cab companies that also wanted him removed. Among the reasons cited in both cases was Crist’s comment that the agency should be dissolved, a stunning admission after he has attempted to clean up the agency’s tarnished image in recent years.
In an interview, Brandes decried the fact that the agency has no oversight other than the state Legislature, which created it as a special act during the 1970s. “Is that good public policy?” he asked about the increased fines which, if voted on next week, would go into effect beginning in August. “There’s no rational reason why they’re charging one fine versus another.”
Brandes has represented part of Hillsborough County as part of his Senate District 22 seat the past four years, but that will change in November, when he’s expected to easily win office to Senate District 24. However, that district remains in Pinellas County, meaning he won’t be able to file a local bill regarding the PTC later this year. He says, however, that there are “many options” when it comes to proposing legislation regarding special districts in the Legislature next year.
The Hillsborough PTC includes members from the county commission, as well as representatives from the three incorporated cities: Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City. Brandes said it would be beneficial if Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, for example, could join the board. Like Brandes, Buckhorn is on record as being in favor of dissolving the agency.
“When you have the head of the PTC saying ‘disband us.’ You’ve got the mayor of the largest city, saying that it’s no longer needed, it’s time for the legislative leaders to listen,” Brandes said.