Jamie Grant says a bill to kill Hillsborough PTC could be coming

The controversial agency is the only one of its kind in Florida.

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Members of Hillsborough County's troubled Public Transportation Commission came to the realization earlier this summer that its very existence was in question, prompting them to spend $90,000 on a lobbyist to get the message out on why it's a relevant government agency.

It may not be enough.

On Tuesday, Hillsborough and Pinellas area State Representative Jamie Grant confirmed to CL that he and and a few other legislators are looking at crafting a bill calling for the agency's demise. Grant says his main reason for doing so is that the PTC is hampering innovative transportation solutions in the county. But he wants to be careful.

"I don't want to be in a position of demolishing an inefficient agency or an inefficient arm of government at any level and then replacing it with another inefficient or obstructive agency," the two-term Republican said. "I don't know if it will be a local bill. But anything I introduce will be through the lens of embracing innovation here in Tampa Bay and trying to focus on job creation and letting people know that this is going to be a region and a place [where] innovators and entrepreneurs are going to be welcome."

The PTC regulates taxis, ambulances, low trucks and other vehicles in Hillsborough County. In an editorial published in June, the Tampa Tribune said flat out "there is no justification for the agency." No other county in Florida has a separate agency performing this function.

The agency has a reputation for being heavy-handed and acting somewhat arbitrarily about allowing private transportation options from getting any type of toehold in the county, with critics citing plenty of examples.

The last serious attempt to kill the agency came in December of 2010, when then Eastern Hillsborough state Senator Ronda Storms introduced the plan at the local legislative delegation's annual meeting. 

"I think it would be ignorant or naive of myself not to acknowledge that this will be a difficult fight," Grant admits, adding that one problem will be convincing other lawmakers who aren't familiar with the agency's history.

The PTC's powers are set forth in state law, not in local ordinance. Its board includes three county commissioners, two Tampa City Council members, and representatives from Temple Terrace and Plant City.

Its staff includes an executive director, inspectors (who carry guns and drive police cars). Ironically, despite its name, the agency does not oversee public transportation in the usual sense of the word (buses, trolleys), but regulates private businesses.

"II think this fight will look far different than Ronda's efforts previously because I think anytime you say you want to come in and abolish something, you have to be able to say this is how we're going to be able to continue providing or performing the necessary functions of this agency, and the PTC does serve a purpose at some level. The question is, is it the most efficient way to serve that purpose for our community?"

CL contacted Cesar Padilla, the executive director of the PTC, for comment. He did not return our call.

On Wednesday, PTC Chair Victor Crist was expected to introduce some changes to the board that would raise the level of accountability as well as make more consistentent some of the agency's policies. 

(Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the PTC has its own attorney. Willie Puz with Hillsborough County's Communications Department tells CL that is not accurate. He writes: "The County has a contract with the PTC to provide legal services, and the County Attorney's Office provides these services. They do not act as employees or staff of the PTC, but as a contractor to the agency.").

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