Rule Makers Don’t Always Follow Rules

Posted on September 16, 2009 by - Also by this author

WHAT IS A LIMOUSINE? WHO SAYS? The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Committee is on my radar again as the Florida Legislature and Tampa citizens wrestle with overzealous acts, such as declaring that the Mercedes “S-Class” models are not luxury vehicles!
 
One might think that I have singled out this transportation regulatory agency. But the fact is its behavior has become so questionable that the agency keeps popping up on my radar screen and provides a valuable example of how operators must contend with cumbersome rules.
 
Each issue I review either amuses me or angers me. I will comment more in future posts about the problems of this troubled agency, but for now let me give you a brief glimpse of issues brought to my attention since reporting on the agency’s legal definitions of various livery vehicles, its $5,000 non-refundable application fee, and its relentless quest to control every fare-paying passenger vehicle passing through Hillsborough County, the most populated county in the Tampa Bay metro region.
 
Moshe Lieb, owner of Tampa Bay Limousine, is formally disputing the HCPTC’s definition of a limousine as compared to the state of Florida’s definition. Specifically, HCPTC has a 236 word definition of “limousine” while Florida’s Legislature uses 23 words. At issue is whether a local agency can expand the definition of a state definition.
 
I have received a letter to the HCPTC by Brian T. Moore, attorney for the Florida Legislature’s Joint Administrative Committee. In that letter to the HCPTC, Moore states, “Some of the definitions substantively appear to differ from the legislative definitions. For example, the definitions of ‘capacity,’ ‘limousine,’ and ‘type of service’ contain much more detail than legislative definitions,” and, “they are being used in a way that appears to attempt to change legislative definitions.”
 
Additionally, the letter admonishes, “The HCPTC does not have the authority to amend the Act or modify statutory provisions.” This is just the tip of the iceberg on this letter dated March 12, 2009.
 
Apparently, HCPTC may not have changed the way it operates, as Moore issued another letter on Sept. 10 asking for an update and for the commission to “please explain why it has not been done and provide me with the commission’s expected timeline for accomplishing its responsibilities.”
 
On Aug. 12, the HCPTC shut down Green Go, a company offering electric cart rides in Tampa, citing its authority to regulate them and therefore deem them to be illegal. But John Byrne, attorney for Green Go, asserted it did not. Electric carts certainly are not limousines, vans, buses, nor taxis since they don’t have meters and only run a specific circuit route. Byrne challenges that only the legislature can give HCPTC authority to regulate a new type of vehicle not already defined in their scope of power. It appears HCPTC just wants to decide on a whim what it controls. It did this despite Hillsborough County’s own assistant county attorney, Orlando Perez, advising the commission twice against adopting rules not specifically empowered by state law. This advice was given in part based on Moore’s letter to HCPTC in March. According to an article in the Tampa Times, Florida’s Attorney General, Bill McCollum, also advised in a 2007 opinion that if there was any question over authority, HCPTC should assume the power does not exist.
 
To add insult to injury, Green Go doesn’t even charge for its services. It relies solely on advertising on its vehicles and the drivers work only for tips. Yet, HCPTC declared Green Go carts are “vehicles-for-hire” simply because of the money it earns from advertising. Go Green and other cart companies have since been allowed to resume operations pending a decision from the Attorney General.
 
HCPTC commissioner Kevin White, commenting on the application of an operator to add a Mercedes “S-Class.” stated in a public hearing: “Just because it’s a Mercedes-Benz, in my mind, doesn’t make it a luxury limousine.” He also said, “In the spirit of fairness and consistency on my behalf, I will not be able to support this petition.”
 
Say what? For the record, a Mercedes S-550 is considered even more “luxurious” than the Lincoln Town Car. Operators charge more for an S-550 because the vehicle costs about twice as much.
 
Fairness and consistency? HCPTC appears to be struggling over the very meaning of those two words. Stay tuned.
 

— Jim Luff, LCT Contributing Editor

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