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Lawsuit: Hillsborough's new taxi permits cost drivers thousands

TAMPA - United Cab and a group of independent tax drivers are suing Hillsborough County, arguing they lost thousands of dollars when the county abolished its long-standing taxicab permit program in 2017.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in circuit court, the cab companies claim they are due compensation after the county got rid of the permits, sometimes referred to as medallions, and required taxicab owners to purchase new permits to operate for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough. Attorney Anthony Martino said his clients together held more than 250 of these medallions, and individuals are still joining the lawsuit.

"The government took our property from us, without paying us, nothing," said Shah Jahan, who started his own taxi service in 2016 and is a plaintiff in the suit. "All my savings are gone."

The change in permitting happened when the Legislature disbanded the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which had regulated cabs, limos and tow-trucks and was feuding with rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Unregulated rideshare companies entered the Tampa Bay market in 2014 without the same permits and licensing that the public transportation commission required of taxis and limos. Without the same financial burden, taxi companies argued the commission was creating an unfair playing field. Demand for legal ridesharing grew, and the commission struck a deal to legalize Uber and Lyft in 2016. But the state stepped in the next year and eliminated the commission, transferring its regulatory duties to the county.

When the county took over the permitting process, it negated the medallions, rendering them valueless, the lawsuit said.

"If the government is going to take property from you, they've got to pay you for it, and they've got to pay you the value of it when they took it," Martino said.

Martino said the price of individual medallions varied based on demand, but could cost more than $50,000. They could be sold or transferred to other drivers, and in some cases have been used as collateral to secure bank loans, Martino said.

Jahan, who had worked for other companies in Hillsborough since 2001 before launching his own, said he spent $40,000, including the cost of other fees, to obtain his permit in 2016.

"I had been trying for four or five years for this permit," he said. "I said, 'My dream is going to come true. I'll pay that money.' But now me and my wife, all that we have, all of our savings are gone and we're stuck with it."

Jahan's company is still operating, but he shifted most of his business to Pinellas County.

Hillsborough "has never offered to purchase the plaintiff's medallions, nor paid for damages for their taking of the taxicab medallions," the lawsuit said. "Hillsborough County, by its conduct or activities, has taken private property without a formal exercise of the power of inverse condemnation."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

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