It may not be much longer before limo drivers in Hillsborough County, Florida, home to Tampa, will be able to offer good deals and Groupon discounts again. Last week, the Florida legislature passed HB 647 dissolving the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission (PTC) and handing over its regulatory responsibilities to the county government. The PTC became notorious following a challenge by the Institute for Justice (IJ) to its mandatory minimum fare of $50 for limos and numerous other scandals. The bill is now awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature, which is expected.
Despite its name, the PTC was not actually part of the county government; it was a pernicious form of state agency known in many states as a special purpose district and known in Florida as an independent special district. Special purpose districts are formed by a state for one specific purpose in one specific area. The PTC was created to govern the for-hire transportation industry in a geographic area that exactly coincides with the boundaries of Hillsborough County. In short, despite operating in some ways like a department of the county government, it was solely accountable to the Legislature, which had little incentive to hold the PTC accountable for its actions, even when those actions involved numerous criminal investigations and lawsuits.
The PTC’s minimum fare, which was lowered to $30 during IJ’s legal challenge, prevented new services from competing with existing taxi and limo services by offering better deals to customers. A 2014 survey found that 78 percent of Floridians supported ending the minimum fare requirement for limos. Unfortunately, in April 2016, the Second District Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision which upheld the constitutionality of the minimum fare rule.
Dismantling the PTC does not automatically repeal the minimum fare rule. However, Hillsborough County does not appear to have the same appetite for overcharging customers and destroying jobs as the PTC. If the county follows through on anticipated deregulation of the transportation industry following the bill’s signature, customers could soon benefit from more transportation services and lower prices.