Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hillsborough PTC Part1: Inhibiting competition and choice

Here in Hillsborough County, we watch our County Commissioners espouse their proposals for economic development.  They have tied transportation to economic development and have doled out our tax dollars to bring the big box Bass Pro Shop Sporting Goods store to Hillsborough.  They are now proposing  subsidies, tax breaks, tax credits to large companies who want to bring their businesses and jobs to Hillsborough like Amazon.  

But what about new, innovative companies who also want to bring their business to Hillsborough County but burdensome regulations are keeping them out?  We know what happened last year to Uber during the RNC convention.  The Tampa Bay Times wrote last year:
While Republican National Convention delegates decry excess governmental regulation, a case study is unfolding outside: a dispute between Hillsborough County regulators and a techie taxi startup in town for the convention.What the company can't offer? Low prices. Hillsborough County regulations set Uber's minimum fare at $50, three times as pricey as the service's minimum fare in New York City, London, Paris or practically anywhere else.
At the Eye, we agree with what Rachel Holt, general manager for Uber's DC operations said,
"There is an important role for regulations, and that's protecting the public … not blocking competition."
Well, Uber left town during the RNC, run out by the heavy handed anti-competitive regulations of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, and headed to Charlotte for the DNC.

Also recall the entrepreneurial company Hop Tampa who was providing free golf cart shuttle services downtown.  
Hop Tampa free shuttle cart downtown shutdown
In 2009, Hop Tampa was shut down by the dubious Public Transportation Commission.  The Tampa Bay Times article Plug pulled on free shuttle service by downtown Tampa's electric carts  reported:
Hillsborough County transportation officials Wednesday slammed the brakes on electric cart operators providing shuttle services downtown.The Public Transportation Commission ruled that the companies run vehicles for hire, which means they need permits to stay in business.
And all it took was a call from a local taxi cab company as TBT went on to state:
The board made the decision after hearing from an attorney for Yellow Cab.
Creative Loafing also reported on the shutdown with Free rides short-circuited as Tampa kills green downtown shuttle service:
It is a classic Catch-22; electric vehicles operators downtown say they were told they didn't need permits because they didn't charge for their rides (they make their money from advertising on the vehicles, and the drivers get tips), and since the PTC tightly controls taxi permits, they likely wouldn't be able to get them anyway. But even though they don't charge fares and mostly provide rides that the for-pay taxis won't/don't give (short hops that aren't profitable), the PTC put them out of business after cabbies complained.
Apparently these private sector, entrepreneurial golf cart transportation services were being well received in downtown and south Tampa. They were free to riders because they used advertising on their vehicles. They provided a service for those short hop trips that taxi cabs do not want anyway. The taxi's want the longer haul trips, especially from the airport.

The question that needs answering is what is the purpose of the PTC?  Hillsborough County is the only special district in Florida that regulates for-hire vehicles with such a commission.  It regulates taxi cabs, limousine services, towing services and ambulance services.  PTC regulations force limo services to charge a minimum $50 charge to step your leg into a limo, even if you only want to go 10 miles down the road.  PTC regulations are inhibiting ambulance service competition in the county.  PTC regulations are driving out innovative, entrepreneurial businesses like Uber and Hop Tampa.  

Now another innovative new company, Ride Command, is trying to pick up where Uber was forced out.
Ride Command - new phone apps
Ride Command App
The Tampa Bay Times reports today Company offers luxury car rides via smartphone app:
Ride Command lets customers use a mobile phone app to order a ride right away for a predetermined price or put future rides out to bid to get the lowest price possible.
President and Founder Al Stapleton, who retired from the US GAO, developed the concept and stated this in the Times article:
"We're giving consumers the power to choose," he said. "We think people can ride for less if they're in charge.""We feel like the market should determine the price, not the government," said Stapleton, who is funding the company himself.
Here at the Eye, where we support free markets, innovation, competition and entrepreneurs agrees, but the power and regulatory control of the PTC lurks as the Times article goes on to state: 
He (Stapleton) also hopes pressure from customers could eventually persuade the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to reduce or eliminate the fare minimum — an effort that proved futile for Uber.
Every other county in the state has figured out how to ensure safety, provide choice and competition around these vehicle for hire transportation services.  For example, if you want to start a new transportation service in Pinellas County you can easily go to the their website and obtain a Public Vehicle Certificate.

Last but not least is a reminder of the corruption and ethical issues associated with this commission.  Former County Commissioner and PTC board member Kevin White went to prison for bribery and corruption charges associated with this board.  Current Hillsborough County Commissioners who sit on this board, Victor Crist and Ken Hagan, receive campaign donations from the very companies they regulate.  The smell of this Commission is so strong the Tampa Tribune recently weighed in with their Op-Ed,  Dump public transportation commission.

Corruption, Cronyism and inhibitor of Competition are the 3 C's associated with the Public Transportation Commission.  Perhaps while the County Commissioners are handing out our tax dollars to some large companies, they can reign in the PTC too.

Stay tuned for Part 2.


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