PTC – Of Words and Deeds
This week, there were a number of developments in the PTC/Ridesharing issue.
First, there were the mailers (you can see them here)
Ride-sharing company Uber has started a direct mail campaign in specific neighborhoods, pointing an accusing finger at individual politicians on Hillsborough County’s taxi and limo governing body, and saying they’re siding with taxi companies against local residents and limiting “consumer choice.”
Those politicians, in turn, are calling such mailers “illegal” political advertising and they’ve authorized a month-long billboard campaign around the region, warning people against taking unlicensed taxis.
We do not consider that particularly personal. Elected officials are elected officials. The policy decisions they make are fair game for comment and advocacy. (As far as we can tell, there is no implication that they did anything illegal or immoral, just that they might take a position that the mailers oppose. It is also worth noting that, at the hearing referenced below, one of the PTC members approached the mailers with some humor.) And, even if you ignore ridesharing, the PTC intentionally does limit consumer choice right now through price controls. That is a fact (as is also shown below).
Second, the mailers tell the recipients of a PTC meeting on Wednesday, September 10 and suggest people attend. Nothing wrong there. (The article does say that the mailers may have violated a law requiring some notices. We don’t know if they did or not, so we take no position, other than to say that the senders should make sure they do it right.) We thought that was a good idea and had some time, so we took it in. (It is not clear if a video of it is online)
There were a large number of people there – both for and against, though it looked like more for, ridesharing. (As far as we could tell, everyone who was against was connected to the cab or limo industry, including one insurance person.) Notably, some of the PTC Commissioners were a bit testy about the mailers and repeatedly said they are looking after the safety of the public, saying things like this:
“I will not be strong-armed or bullied or pushed around by special interest groups when it comes to safety,” Higginbotham said. “I want to say one last time that these kinds of tactics are unacceptable, especially when I have worked so hard at bringing business to this community and I’ve been a supporter of consumer choice.”
Ok, but, if that is the case, why not focus on efficient background checks and insurance and drop the minimum pricing? (It was notable that during the PTC board’s discussions, no one seemed to know why the minimum pricing existed. Some thought it might have to do with insurance requirements for limos, which has nothing to do with ridesharing. It was pointed out that the PTC did research on all summer and was waiting on a report about insurance. Still, no one knew the basis for the policy.) If the PTC members do not like people saying they are blocking consumer choice, they should stop fixing prices.
There were also protestations that the PTC was open to working with ridesharing companies. Ok. Once again, drop minimum pricing as an issue and focus on safety – car checks, background checks, and insurance. Stop buying ads and ticketing people while you fix your own flawed rules.
And here is another comment with the same theme from an article before the meeting:
County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who has been on the PTC for about a year, said he doesn’t remember speaking publicly at board meetings about Uber and Lyft. Nor has he been part of negotiations between the commission and the two car-for-hire companies. “I’m not on record as being in opposition,” he said. “That’s why I’m flabbergasted … I’ve been an advocate for free enterprise and open markets since long before I was elected. I’ve only voiced two concerns: insurance and safety checks.”
That’s fine – we’ll take the statement at face value. So where is the motion to eliminate minimum pricing? And there was this from the meeting:
“This is about building consensus and taking new ideas and growing from them,” Crist told the crowd. “But it is of paramount importance that we not lose sight of where we are and what our sole responsibility is, and that’s consumer safety … Is there room for change, of course there is, but we now have a foundation to work from.”
Do you notice a trend? So how does minimum pricing have anything to do with safety?
As we have pointed out previously, this is the argument the County Attorney representing the PTC made in court in support of minimum pricing:
County Managing Attorney Rob Brazel, in arguing for dismissal, said the transportation commission was created by the Legislature to regulate fares for limousines, taxis and other vehicles for hire. Those regulations, Brazel said, do not deny a customer his choice in the marketplace because he can choose to take a cab instead of a limousine.
That is the PTC’s lawyer. That is not about choice (in fact, it is about pricing people out of choices to benefit a specific group), competition (likewise, it is about reducing competition), protecting the consumer, safety or supporting the market (it is market distorting). The question remains: if the PTC exists to protect the consumer and provide safe transportation, why does it care if someone can provide a better service for a cheaper price? That is not its role. So why is it stopping that from happening?
And there was this:
The speaker sequence was frontloaded with people from PTC-sanctioned cab and limo operators. The gist of their argument: They are following the laws, paying the hefty fees and taking out expensive commercial insurance policies. Why shouldn’t the ride-share people?
Actually, the real question is what is the justification for the hefty fees? Should they be lowered? Do they serve consumers by making cab expenses higher? Are the laws reasonably necessary for public safety or just the way things have been done? Are the PTC’s costs justified? Maybe there is a better way for all of this to be done. Inertia may be the reason for the PTC’s policies, but it is not a justification.
This really gets to the bottom line:
That’s fine, but if you make the rules, you cannot then claim to be helpless before them. You made the rules. You can change them. (And just because they are rules does not mean they are not corrupt or do not facilitate corruption.) Change the rules, and start with eliminating minimum pricing, which is the most obviously anti-competitive, anti-consumer rule.
It is nice to have meetings, but it is more important to have your deeds match your words. It is really not that hard.
Riverfront Park – As Expected
The City revealed its plan for Riverfront Park, and it was pretty much what was revealed before. Because, as expected based on past experience, nothing much changed, we are not going to repeat what we have already said. You can read it at “Parks – What Is and What Should Be” .
We will only say two things about the announced plans. First, the plan is now $20 million. All previous coverage suggested $9 million was budgeted and never really indicated it would cost much more. Frankly, we do not care that much if it is a little more expensive than previously stated. It is ok to spend some money for a long term investment provided it is done right. (See our previously referenced comments) Such investments have to be made from time to time. (Of course, such investments should be made outside of the InVision Tampa area, too.) There is a question of when all the money will be allocated so this thing can get done, but we shall see.
Second, and it is not a big thing (it will not make or break the park), but it goes to an issue in our local designs (more of a built environment issue). We noticed this rendering which looks to be around the boathouse:
Note the wooden frame structure. Much like using palm trees as shade trees, it is cute but probably useless. It does not protect from rain or sun. This is Florida. That frame may work with vines in California or Colorado or Tuscany, but here it does not do much other than provide the veneer of shelter without actually giving any. (You can see the same sort of thing with the “awnings” on Element and Skypoint.) We have no idea what it is for. It would be nice if local plans were made for local conditions. We don’t mind spending some money for quality, but, as we said, it should be quality and fit our conditions.
Transportation – The Choice Between Ideology and Practicality
This week, there was an article in the Times about one of the national anti-rail campaigners who was brought in by No Tax for Tracks to attack Greenlight.
There are a couple of others, too, but anyway. So what is his analysis?
Well, that is rational. Never? Not one? Anywhere? (Here’s one list of all the US systems and here is one list of all the systems worldwide . They all suck) Now, if he said that some systems or lines waste money and listed the reasons he thought Greenlight was flawed, fine. But just a blanket “it all fails” is pretty hard to take seriously. But, then again, he does not appear to be one for half statements. His Cato bio tells us this:
In his book The Best-Laid Plans, O’Toole calls for repealing federal, state, and local planning laws and proposes reforms that can help solve social and environmental problems without heavy-handed government regulation.
We are not sure if he wants to abolish all planning regulation, but ok. We’d be fine making developers pay all the cost for all the roads and utility connections from their developments to everything else . . . and the maintenance costs. (Why should they be subsidized like they are now?) He seems to forget that the taxpayer is paying for a lot of that cost. Roads, water, and sewer are not free. Someone has to pay for them, and that is through taxes, so the taxpayers gets a say in the obligations private parties want to foist on them – including some planning regulations. Just ask Pasco. And he seems to ignore that dense development around transit is a way to raise more revenue that can be used to offset some of that cost, as well as limiting some of that cost by making connections shorter.
But who needs regulation or taxes. Apparently, if someone wants to put a chemical plant on Bayshore or a fish packing plant on Clearwater Beach, no problem. And if you have 18 wheelers rolling around your neighborhood at all hours, just deal. And who needs schools?
Then we found this blog post discussion about an article he wrote (as far as we could tell after some searching, the article does not appear to be available online) telling people in Detroit to reject rail – not because Detroit’s plan has flaws (a colorable argument for that exists) but because all rail is a failure, citing the examples of Denver and Portland as failures. We suppose what is a “failure” all depends what you want (if you want no rail then any rail is a “failure”), but we have no doubt that we could find a large number of people in this area that wished we were failing like Denver and Portland, especially in terms of per capita gross metro product and incomes. And what about Salt Lake City or Phoenix or San Diego or all the other failed cities with rail?
Of course, what is done in Denver or Portland, and other cities, is the product of a collective decision by the people – especially with referendums – in the relevant jurisdictions (through that oppressive socialist election thing) that they want to live in a community that has various choices in how to get around. That is their choice and how democracy functions. Greenlight is the same. (And, note that Oklahoma City, that bastion of the socialist gas and oil industry, is also working towards rail. And even Omaha is considering a combination or streetcar and, apparently real but who knows, BRT. Will the oppression never end?)
The bottom line is that because his analysis starts with the position that all rail is a failure (which it is clearly not), the expert is not particularly interesting or believable. If he wants to live in a sprawling subdivision in an exurb and be forced to drive everywhere and be stuck in traffic all day, we really don’t care (really, we don’t). People should have choices. But that also means they should have a choice to not live that way – which too often the supposedly market oriented policies of local government does not allow and even subvert with subsidies. And, ironically, the very transit and density he is against is likely the best way to preserve the big, open spaces he seems to want. But that does not fit into the ideology, so it cannot be considered.
Sadly, that is the quality of the debate about Greenlight and most transportation in this area. But, then again, did you expect anything else?
Channel District – Amazon Hose Lot
The Amazon Hose property in the Channel District has been purchased.
So what is the plan?
Florida Crystals launched a real estate division in 2013 and has been active in the apartment sector since. The Amazon Hose site is its first Tampa deal, but the company’s real estate director, Juan Porro, was the developer of The Slade, a condominium building in Channelside.
Plans are for 270 units in a seven-story mid-rise building, with a six-and-a-half story parking garage, Lance said. The apartments will be mostly one- and two-bedroom units, and the building will likely include a few three-bedroom units. The land price breaks down to $47 per square foot or $14,222 per unit.
Lance said the company is “extremely well capitalized.” The developer who went under contract on the site in summer 2013 struggled to attract an equity partner, but he said that won’t be an issue for Florida Crystals, which went under contract on the property in August.
The apartment complex, the name of which wasn’t announced, will have a parking structure alongside the building, allowing most tenants to park on their own floor. The building and the units will have a modern architectural feel inspired by Miami Beach’s art deco design.
We are not sure what that last part means (maybe some waving thing and some lights). In any event, we do not know what the project design will be or when it might get built, so we cannot comment on that other than to say that hopefully the parking garage will be hidden from the street. (And, if it isn’t, it would be nicer if the apartments were on top of the garage to provide more view corridors and light near the street and allow for more open space among the buildings.) And it is too bad that this project is much smaller than the original proposal for this site.
Ybor – Adaptive Reuse
There was news about the old Oliva Cigar Factory in Ybor.
A corporate entity tied to Darryl Shaw, CEO of BluePearl Veterinary, has filed a request with the city to reduce the parking at the Oliva Cigar Factory from 42 spaces to 21 as part of its conversion to a multifamily building. Shaw’s plans call for the conversion of the building into “a maximum of 42 multifamily rental units.” The three-story, 30,000-square-foot factory was built in 1900, according to Hillsborough County property records.
We are not completely clear how having 21 parking spaces for up to 42 units works, especially in a city where public transit is lacking. Other than that, we are fine with the idea.
And this is not the only project the developer has planned in Ybor.
Shaw is a longtime advocate of the revitalization of Ybor City, recently buying the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn and the former Blue Ship Cafe building. He plans to renovate the Blue Ship Cafe property into a mixed-use concept, with apartments on the second floor and retail on the ground floor.
Aside from the parking question, this all sounds good to us.
Economic Development – Foreign Students
Almost a year ago, there was an article in the Times that discussed foreign students. Some interesting perspective was given by an interesting report from Brookings about foreign students in the United States. It ranked 118 metro areas. You can look at it for yourself, but we will pull out a few interesting numbers.
The Tampa Bay area, a top 20 metro area, ranked 44th for the number of foreign students overall. 28.6% of the students in the Tampa Bay area were in the STEM fields, which ranked 101st. , 51.6% of foreign students in the Tampa Bay area choose to remain in the Tampa Bay area, which ranked 21st. Finally, there were 16.3 foreign students for every 1000 Tampa Bay area residents, which ranked 80th. It is also notable that the only Latin American country in the Top 5 for foreign students in the Tampa Bay area was Venezuela.
Economic Development – Reading List
– The Challenge of MedTech
There has been a lot of discussion on developing the biomed/medtech sector in the Tampa Bay area. It is one of the target areas of Hillsborough County economic development efforts. It is a hot topic. Therefore, we were quite interested when we ran across this article in Foreign Policy about Minnesota’s challenges as one of the main biomed/medtech centers in the country and world. We are not going to summarize it, but for anyone who is interested in the subject, it is worth a read it here.
— High Tech
There was also an interesting article in the Guardian about how Chattanooga developed its tech economy. This excerpt gives you a taste:
He’s not alone in thinking so. Lamp Post is one of several tech incubators in this mid-sized Tennessee city. Money is flowing in. Chattanooga has gone from close to zero venture capital in 2009 to more than five organized funds with investable capital over $50m in 2014 – not bad for a city of 171,000 people.
In large part the success is being driven by The Gig. Thanks to an ambitious roll-out by the city’s municipally owned electricity company, EPB, Chattanooga is one of the only places on Earth with internet at speeds as fast as 1 gigabit per second – about 50 times faster than the US average.
The tech buildup comes after more than a decade of reconstruction in Chattanooga that has regenerated the city with a world-class aquarium, 12 miles of river walks along the Tennessee River, an arts district built around the Hunter Museum of American Arts, high-end restaurants and outdoor activities.
But it’s the city’s tech boom has sparked interest from other municipalities across the world. It also comes as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prepares to address some of the biggest questions the internet has faced when it returns from the summer break. And while the FCC discusses whether Comcast, the world’s biggest cable company, should take over Time Warner, the US’s second largest cable operator, and whether to allow those companies to set up fast lanes (and therefore slow lanes) for internet traffic, Chattanooga is proof that another path is possible.
It is worth reading the whole thing.
Built Environment – Real Adaptive Reuse
One of the big arguments in the transit discussions in this area involve how the area is built in such a sprawling fashion – even in Pinellas, which is commonly said to be “built out.” There was an interesting piece on NPR this week (yes, it was NPR, but, no, it was not about socialism) about reuse of malls that closed that indirectly speaks to this.
Old mall properties can become many things:
There’s about 40 malls that have more or less bulldozed the existing mall and are now building the downtown that that suburb never had before. One example is Belmar in Lakewood, Colo., just outside of Denver. It used to be the Villa Italia Mall, a very large regional mall on a 100-acre single, superblock site. Today it’s 22 blocks of walkable, urban streets that connect up with the neighboring streets. At the ground floor you get a lot of shops and then above that, a lot of either offices or apartments. At the same time, they basically tripled density on that site but they’ve more than quadrupled the tax revenue that the town is receiving and … actually cut traffic because so many of those people now are able to walk to their daily needs.
It’s often referred to as “new urbanism,” the movement that’s been driving a lot of this, because it makes so much sense from an economic point of view, certainly from a sustainability and environment point of view, from social — building more opportunities for people to get together. And it also just really makes sense in terms of our changing demographics. Folks in their 20s — millennials — most of them grew up in the suburbs and most of them have made very clear they want to live a more urban lifestyle. They don’t want to become their parents.
To be honest, it still has too much surface parking for our taste, but at least is makes some effort to integrate the parking into a more urban layout, rather than local attempts like Wiregrass that are more like roofless malls surrounded by seas of parking.
The point is that just because there is a development pattern now does not mean it will never change. Some things can get worse, others can get better. It depends on the market, the overall economy, the infrastructure, a desire to do better, and the regulations put in place by the local government.
Our situation is not static. It can be made much better with the proper conditions.
List of the week
Our list this week is smartasset.com’s best cities for tech workers. This is the methodology:
For two hundred cities, we collected data on average wages for all workers, average wages for tech workers and percentage of all workers who are employed in tech from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We also looked at the cost of living index for each city from the Census Bureau. We then ranked the cities for three categories, giving high marks for high relative pay for tech workers, high percentages of tech workers in the workforce (representing high levels of opportunity in the field) and low cost of living indices. The total of these three rankings became the cities’ overall tech industry scores.
Coming in first was Omaha, followed by Colorado Springs, Huntsville (AL), Dallas, Springfield (IL), Charlotte, Columbus, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, and Tampa.
So we made a list (with Dubuque, Huntsville, Springfield, and Cedar Rapids). Notably, two of the three elements are relative salaries – how much higher tech workers get paid than everyone else – and low cost of living. Because of our low wage economy and low cost of living (though from the website apparently not lower than Charlotte), it is not surprising we made the list. The lists we make usually weigh low wages and low cost of living heavily. We are ok with a lower cost of living but not low wages.
And the overall low wages in our area makes one wonder why, unlike some other areas, our tech jobs have such a low effect on the economy as a whole, which is a subject worthy of study.