"HOUSTON, WE DON'T HAVE A PROBLEM!"
Joe Jordan, president of the Limousine Association of Houston, reports:
(Note: Portions edited by LCT Magazine)
HAIL, HAIL, THE WICKED WITCH IS DEAD. In a stunning series of events, the City of Houston Aviation Department, Finance and Administration Department, Transportation Department, Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department and the City Controller all sent urgent memos to the Mayor and City Council affirming that the Avis WeDriveU program was illegal and that immediate action was necessary to ameliorate the situation.
The Avis corporation concocted a nationwide scam wherein they would rent a car on one piece of paper and the on the piece of paper under it you would "Rent" a private driver, thereby evading the taxi and limousine ordinances. It's a wonder they didn't try to sell a fake Rolex watch in the same transaction. All very slick if you can get away with it.
In the City of Houston, limousine companies must have a license from the city and have large commercial insurance policies with the city named as an additional insured. Each vehicle must be licensed and inspected by the city and have Texas plates and inspection. Property taxes to the city and the county are also levied on the vehicle. The chauffeurs must pass stringent FBI background checks with no felonies the last 10 years and be finger printed and drug tested and have a doctor's physical exam. All that data must pass through a certified chain of custody process through the Houston Police Department. The city is obligated to take these measures to protect public safety and health. Avis chose not to be trifled with and took the illegal path, becoming what the limo industry calls a "gypsy operator," one who has no permits or insurance and skulks about going "psst-hey buddy want a limo at a cheap price?"
Here is the deal: The City of Houston Chapter 46-231 Ordinance states: "It shall be unlawful to lease a car including the service of a driver unless the person has a current and valid City of Houston Limousine Company License". Sounds straightforward enough, right? Avis, however, saw what they felt was a loophole. If they use a totally separate company for the drivers, they have not supplied the car and the driver together, or so they thought.
How does the federal government look at these sorts of arrangements? Take airplanes and boats. If you rent an airplane and hire a commercial pilot, or if you rent a boat and hire a Coast Guard licensed captain and then charge people to ride on them, you now have a commercial airline service and a licensed commercial passenger vessel subject to all the laws of the FAA and the USCG. You are no longer a private citizen attending to a private matter.
We recommended a course of action to other limousine associations around the country to look into the concession agreements and ground leases for rental car agencies at the airports. These are very tightly written. "Subleasing" or "boothsharing" are not permitted, or the airport terminals would become flea markets complete with wandering minstrels and carnival hucksters. For instance, a magazine stand cannot sell mixed drinks and a shoe shine stand cannot sell airplane tickets. You can only provide the specific products or services permitted by your concession and ground lease.
Here's where Avis' incompetent attorneys dropped the ball. We are in possession of a letter sent to the Limousine Association of Houston dated 10/24/2007 by Avis' Chief Legal Counsel, Frederic R. Grumman. He said, "Avis has a partnership with WeDriveU" and "Avis facilitates our customers seeking such services" and "Avis receives no portion of the payment" but "WeDriveU drivers are additional authorized drivers on our rental agreement". (Can anyone say SUBLEASE, ENABLER, FACILITATOR!!!!!)
Like luring longhorn cattle into a box canyon, here is how we corraled the Avis chauffeured operation:
1) If the chauffeurs are de-facto Avis employees, then Avis is violating the Taxi and Limousine Ordinance.
2) If WeDriveU is in fact a totally separate company, then it is illegal for them to send employees(Chauffeurs) onto airport property and operate out of Avis facilities because they have no concession or lease privileges and are in fact trespassing as they are on airport property without a legitimate reason to be there.
EITHER WAY, THE AVIS WeDriveU OPERATION IS TOTALLY ILLEGAL AND WAS DESIGNED TO BREAK THE LAW AND ENDANGER PUBLIC SAFETY WITH UNLICENSED CHAUFFEUR AND UNINSPECTED OUT-OF-STATE VEHICLES
The Limousine Association of Houston would like to thank all the city departments who responded so forcefully to this scandalous affront of law and order and the common decency of the citizens of Houston. A very clear message was sent to Avis that their type of inappropriate business behavior is not tolerated here.
The Limousine Association of Houston is now in the company of other limo associations in Phoenix, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Miami who have been successful in holding regulators' feet to the fire and have them enforce the the laws designed to protect the traveling public in interstate commerce.
We also feel that Avis' stockholders should call a special meeting and demand that the Avis CEO, COO, CFO and Board of Directors do the right thing and submit their resignations for their ill-advised and illegal pursuits that evade the laws governing the regulation of their industry.
The Limousine and Taxi Industries in Houston have now been protected for generations from unscrupulous interlopers such as Avis, thanks to the efforts of the Limousine Association of Houston and the multitude of public officials who stepped up to the plate, did the right thing, and won the game for the citizens of Houston.
Joe L. Jordan, President
LIMOUSINE ASSOCIATION OF HOUSTON
P.O. Box 640
Kemah TX 77565-0640
PHOTO CAPTION: Left to right: Limousine Association of Houston President Joe L. Jordan and Board Members Richard Mishriky, Linda Pomerleau, Dave Hutson and Erich Reindl. (Not pictured, Vance Lane
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