Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission members want to launch an investigation after complaints that some limo drivers are ripping off passengers. They are also looking into other public safety concerns cab drivers brought to their attention Wednesday morning.
"Some limousine operators are acting like a taxi; charging by the mile...what I say is it's gouging basically," said Brook Negusei, founder of Cab Plus. "Some of them charge $5, $7, $10 a mile."
Negusei told members of the commission he's heard complaints from customers for the last six years but the problem is getting worse.
"Instead of charging the minimum $50 an hour where you can go to Plant City and come back for $50, they're charging $30-$35 to go 5 miles," he said.
Negusei pointed out it is a small percentage of drivers violating the law: Probably 2 to 3 percent out of the 1,500 to 2,000 drivers in Hillsborough County.
Mario Tamargo, Chief Inspector for the commission, said his inspectors are aware of the problem and often research the problem with advertisements online before sending cease-and-desist letters to violators.
"A lot of times it's hard for us to catch people doing this in these uniforms," Tamargo told the commission.
Commissioner Ken Hagan asked if the commission can come up with even more thorough ways "to aggressively investigate the matter and take the appropriate enforcement action."
He suggested partnering with the sheriff's office or off-duty agencies. Tamargo warned investigations can be tricky.
"We can't set them up," he said. "It would be entrapment."
Executive director Cesar Padilla said finding violators in the sea of black cars and other vehicles at the airport, for instance, poses challenges for investigators. He said some of the problems have come from former cab drivers.
"Then they become a limo driver and they keep the base of customers and they continue to do this under the radar," he told the commission.
There were other concerns Wednesday about how long hired drivers are on the roads in the Bay area.
"Some of them drive up to 48 hours ... which is not safe for the public," said Lelisa Hika, Chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Taxi Drivers Association.
Hika is urging the commission to come up with some type of enforcement or rules regulating hours behind the wheel. He and the Secretary for TBATDA Muluken Woldekirkose also say drivers are having a hard time making livable wages and affording health care.
"This is not only a driver's issue," Woldekirkose said. "This is a public issue so it has to be addressed."
Commissioners said they would follow-up with those concerns in an effort to come to a solution.
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