Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission being sued over Tampa area limousine fares

  • Thomas Halsnik and attorney Justin Pearson in front of the Hillsborough County Courthouse

Another day, another negative story about the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission (PTC).

Today, in front of the Hillsborough County Court building, the Institute for Justice — a libertarian oriented group — announced that it is suing the PTC and its chairman, Victor Crist, for stifling free enterprise with a rule that mandates that limo and sedan drivers charge at least $50 per ride, no matter how long.

"It should not be illegal for a business owner to offer their client a better deal. But here in Tampa, the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission says it is," said Justin Pearson, executive director of the Institute for Justice Florida Chapter. "This barrier to competition hurts small business owners, it hurts their employees and it hurts their customers."

Pearson said it also violates the Florida Constitution.

The lawsuit alleges that the minimum fare rule violates the due process rights of car service customers in Hillsborough County by "unreasonably and irrationality interfering with the rights of customers."

"I take phone calls every day from customers ... that don't understand why they need to be charged $50 for something that you're only going a couple of miles ... I should be able to charge a price that's fair to them and gives them more options for transportation," said Thomas Halsnik, one of the plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit. In 2007 he started Black Pearl Limousine.

Two limousine customers, Kenrick Gleckler and Daniel Faubion, are also listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Years ago, the Florida Legislature gave the Hillsborough PTC the right to establish the minimum fare. Pearson said that his clients deserve praise for trying to buck the system.

"There have been efforts to change the rule and reform the PTC over the years. Unfortunately history has shown that the PTC is not very open to that type of change, so eventually you get to that point where litigation is required."

The $50 minimum fare is the reason that officials with the tech savvy alternative taxi service Uber said last year it could not compete in the Tampa market last year. The minimum fare rule and its effects have rankled St.Petersburg based GOP state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who strongly believes the PTC should be reformed or go out of business.

Dave Shaw with the West Florida Livery Association told the Tampa Tribune that the rule was put in place at the behest of taxi and limo companies, with the intentions of putting some "separation" between the two entities.

Hillsborough County is the only county in the state that has a public transportation commission, but it is not the only county that has a minimum fare. Miami-Dade has a $70 minimum fare, though there are legislators in that part of the state who are trying to repeal that law.

Bill Varian of the Tampa Bay Times reported today that embattled PTC executive director Cesar Padilla will resign from his position on Friday.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill wrote Crist today regarding the PTC, saying he will assist the chairman with finding an interim replacement for Padilla.

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