Car companies wage turf war in Hillsborough

04/08/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Within the last year, people in Tampa could get free rides to take them to certain parts of town. Because those rides from Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) are free, they’re not regulated.

But local taxi cab owners are unhappy, because they say it is taking business away from their industry. They want the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission (PTC), which regulates cabs, limousines and towing companies, to regulate these cars.

Charles Smalling is a Yellow Cab driver in Tampa. Like other critics, he said the NEVs are not safe.

The NEV companies generally go from downtown to Channelside and Ybor City, short fares that they say many cab driver don’t want. But another cab driver said he feared that’s only the start.

The PTC requested that its attorney Orlando Perez prepare a report and detail the Commission’s options in trying to regulate the NEVs. He told Board members how Florida law deals with such autos.

Perez also said that state laws could be amended to deal with the situation. But he said the PTCommission currently does not have jurisdiction over such vehicles.

County Commissioner and Board Chairman Kevin White said the PTC cannot regulate the NEVs – but he said in fairness to both them and local cabbies, it was important that some resolution be reached.

Throughout the discussion, the issue of the NEVs appearing on Kennedy Boulevard, or near the Westshore Mall was mentioned by some cabbies, and repeated by board members. That’s key, because of the regulation that the cars cannot drive faster than 35 mph.

Tampa does have an ordinance to require a permit for those drive rickshaws or petty cabs.

Councilman John Dingfelder said he would bring the issue back before the City Council, who may have the power to regulate the cars.

Christopher Ireland co-owns Green Go’s Tampa, one of the NEV companies in the city. He said there was some misinformation about what his company does. And he assured board members that his cars have never driven along Westshore Boulevard.

Karen Kress is the transporation director with the Tampa Downtown Partnership, which advertises with two of the companies in question. She says her group is an unabashed supporter of the NEVs.

Temple Terrace representative Mark Knapp suggested that although the NEVs don’t charge for their service, the fact that they are subsidized by advertising displayed on the their vehicles may give the board the angle they need to be able to regulate.

The issue will come back before the PTS next month.

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