LINDA M: Gypsies, Tramps, Thieves & Soccer Moms!?

Posted on July 1, 2009 by LCT Magazine

NO BORDERS: Regulatory is always an issue but it seems to me that the most consistent thread regardless of where you operate continues to be illegal operators. Call them what you will but the fact of the matter is that they are operating without regard to the rules and regulations that govern our industry.
Ok, I am getting on my soap box. 
Regulations — These are to keep honest people honest. It infuriates me when I hear about the airport regulatory people doing a sting in the airport holding lot.  The legal folks are in the holding lot while the illegals are in baggage claim soliciting our passengers while we are being hassled by the inspectors. Don’t get me wrong. I think there is a place for rules, but in most cities there just aren’t enough enforcement officials, and in the areas that there are, they don’t have the power to do anything. Their jobs are to regulate and keep the legal operators legal. 
New gypsy faces — Soccer moms. The article reads “Make extra money driving your neighbors to the airport or taking your friends kids to activities.” Sounds like “For Hire” to me.
Treachery — Illegals will always find ways to skirt the system. I remember doing group work in the Ft. Lauderdale airport and the same illegal was always there. He had what looked like a “hack” around his neck. He knew everyone of the sky caps by name and the gate agents. They all thought he was a great guy. He would stand with his sign that said “Smith” on it at the baggage carousel, and he would ask people if they needed a ride. I watched this a few times and finally got so frustrated that I found the enforcement officer or “blue shirts” as they were called. I told him what was going on and he told me that he had to actually catch him putting people in the car. OK, go watch. We all knew who the enforcement officers were. That was part of the problem. When an enforcement officer was in the terminals, the illegals would leave. What a concept. One day, I watched this young couple go with him. I was so angry that I followed them and I talked to them as we were walking. I asked if they had a prearranged trip with this gentleman? Of course, they told me no. I proceeded to explain that this man was an illegal operator and that if he got into an accident with them in his vehicle he was probably not insured properly. In the end, they went with him anyway as he was only charging $40 to take them to Miami. The illegals are a problem but so are the consumers. The good part of this story is that every time my friend the illegal saw me in a terminal he left and moved to another terminal. If nothing else, my presence was an inconvenience to him. 
Stopping the gypsies — I believe that although you may get rid of some illegals there will always be a revolving door of them in our industry. I believe that the trick is to make it more and more difficult for them that they won’t want to operate in your backyard. How do you do this?
Start with a strong local association. If you are fighting among yourselves and that consumes your meetings, you won’t get anything done. The Limousine Association of New Jersey (LANJ) tells its members to write down the license plate numbers of illegal operators. They have a great relationship with the state police and they in turn give them the numbers to investigate. Additionally, the limo law was recently modified to allow the state police to go onto the property of an illegal operator if they had probable cause. The new Charlotte Regional Limousine Association is working with its airport authority because it has a problem with illegal operators at its welcome center. As groups, these organizations are working with the regulators to fix the problem. But without unity, this would never have occurred. Believe me, not everyone in the New Jersey association loves everyone else. At the LANJ meetings, though, there aren’t petty squabbles and fights. These folks check their egos at the door and get down to the business of working for the common good. 
A fair playing field — It costs operators a lot of money to operate legally. It costs a gypsy nothing to steal you business. Part of the problem is that the penalty when and if caught is worth the risk. Many municipalities only slap illegals on the wrist. The Maryland Limousine Association recently got its State Assembly to enact more stringent penalties for operating illegally. Look at the cost of operating legally versus the penalty for being caught operating illegally and you will understand why there are so many illegal operators.
Additionally, understand how many enforcement officials are out there and the realm of their authority. Strong laws against illegals are only as good as the paper they are written on if there is no one to enforce them. With municipal cut backs, don’t expect any radical changes in this area. The only way to get more enforcement is to show that it is a revenue machine. In order to make it a revenue machine, more legal operators will be put under the microscope more often. It is a bit of a Catch-22, but if you are operating legally and do quality checks, you should have nothing to worry about.    
— Linda Moore, East Coast Editor
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