Formal events such as proms, weddings and graduations were once the staple of work in the limousine industry. Long before corporate contracts, hotel business, and other daily runs, the industry thrived on providing service for these special once-in-a-lifetime events.
As many operators pursue these markets again in difficult economic times, and others plan to remain in them to keep a core revenue stream, learning and re-learning how to develop these youthful clients into lifelong customers is a worthwhile investment. But first, it takes establishing ground rules and policies.
Setting The Stage
By having clear policies aimed at providing a safe, drug and alcohol free event, transporting students can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience for the company, the parents, the students, and the chauffeur. This means you must have a written document stating your policies, such as inspecting for contraband and seizing it if found in your vehicle.
You might include rules such as no use of profanity, no smoking in or around the vehicle, stereo volume control, and no standing up in the sun/moon-roof. Tell the parents and students of how you cooperate with high school officials by having an open vehicle access policy allowing school personnel to inspect your vehicle as it arrives and departs from school events.
It is important that you share these rules with school officials as well since many regions have banned the use of limousines for school events by viewing them as a source of trouble. Parents and school officials will appreciate the fact that your company is concerned about the welfare of students. For students and parents who balk at your policies, you will probably be grateful they went somewhere else if your policies are too stringent for them. Remember, if law enforcement stops your vehicle and your chauffeur is the only legal adult in the vehicle, he could be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor if illegal activity is discovered.
Reservations & Contracts
Since you must be 18 years of age to enter into a binding contract, never make arrangements with students without speaking to a parent and execute legal documents only with parents. ICON Limousine in Nashville, Tenn., uses a multi-stage reservation process, says CEO Jared Scott. ICON requires the initial reservation to be by the parent who agrees to be responsible for the charter.
“Once the reservation has been requested, we e-mail a prom contract, prom promise, and a prom regulations form to the responsible parent,” Scott says. All three documents must be signed and returned along with the initial deposit.
While the actual reservation contract should be between the company and the parent, having students sign written promises and an “acknowledgement” of the rules can mentally emphasize the responsibility of the students. While such agreements are not binding, it may be admissible in court if you must terminate the ride without a refund and the parent sues you for his money back.
Treating Students With Respect
Students should be treated the same as any other client. In many cases, they are paying more money than other clients because so many operators raise their rates for proms and formals. Restrictions such as not allowing the parents to use the vehicle while students are in the prom do nothing to build your long-term relationships with either the students or their parents, and serve no purpose. A good operator realizes that a new youthful client could easily become a lifetime client. Jess Sandhu of A & A Limousine Service in Seattle recently took the reservation of a young couple he drove to a prom in 2001. They recognized Sandhu and asked him to chauffeur their upcoming wedding.
As you begin your trip with the students, the same protocol that you follow with adult clients should be applied, such as introducing yourself by name and familiarizing the passengers with the amenities of the vehicle. The only difference is that you will perform a contraband search and go over all the rules for the trip.
Mike Denning, owner of Elegant Limousines of Palm Coast, Fla., likes to refer to them as “guidelines” rather than rules. At the end of his orientation, Denning says, “Let’s have some fun” in order to put the passengers at ease after going through the contraband search.
Searching For Contraband
No matter how diligent you may be, students can be very creative in hiding marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes, and other illicit drugs. Chauffeurs should be taught how to perform thorough inspections of all items placed inside the passenger area. This means watching out for sneaky parents as well. Dave Merrill, a transportation consultant and former chauffeur, remembers a mother asking to see the inside of the limousine and secretly stashing booze under the ice once inside.
All backpacks, knapsacks, fanny packs, duffle bags, gym bags, extra shoes, purses, and anything else being brought should be checked before allowed in the vehicle. Give the students the option of placing anything they don’t want searched in the trunk with an agreement they get it back at the end of the trip. Sleepovers on prom night are common and a teen girl may not want her underwear inspected by a male chauffeur. Train your chauffeurs to be sensitive to issues like this and not make a big deal out of a search refusal as it is not an admission of guilt to refuse an inspection.
The inspection should be brief and last no longer than an inspection at an airport. Anything that holds liquid should be opened and smelled. A common ploy is to place vodka in a water bottle. If you find rolling papers, matches, a lighter, or a pot pipe, there is probable cause to believe there is smoking material somewhere within your group. You can toss large gym bags lightly with your hand and listen for glass or cans clanking together. While it is not advised to perform pat down searches, look for socks or interior breast suit pockets holding flasks as students enter and exit the vehicle.
Terminating The Ride
Inevitably there will be those that just can’t follow the rules and you will need to terminate the ride. Depending upon the nature of the offense, your current location and how far away you are from the pickup location, you have several options available for ending the run.
Unlike an adult, you cannot simply leave students in a well lit location with access to a phone. The preferred location for termination is at the original pickup point, remanding the unruly group to the responsible parent. However, if the situation is so serious that you must terminate sooner, you may deliver them to the school function and turn them over to school personnel or deliver them to a local law enforcement department or precinct.
The latter should be used only as an absolute last resort. When possible, the chauffeur should be met by another employee or manager of the company at the termination point for safety. A group of students under the influence of alcohol or even defensive parents could attack your chauffeur, as has been the case with several operators LCT contacted for this article. One chauffeur even required stitches after getting hit over the head with a beer bottle.
Bottom line: Take every reasonable precaution in the book to protect yourself and your clients.
SIDEBAR: 16 Rules To Consider
01 No alcohol or intoxication
02 No drugs and impaired behavior
03 No cigarettes/cigars
04 Use of profanity
05 Stereo volume
06 Respect toward chauffeur
07 No standing in moonroof
08 No hanging out windows
09 No yelling at passing vehicles/ pedestrians
10 No throwing objects out of vehicle
11 No excessive “public display of affection”
12 Partition remains down
13 Personal property searches
14 Any restrictions on vehicle usage
15 Any geographic restrictions
16 Destination instructions from one person only
• Check water bottles to make sure they contains water by smelling
• Check anything else that can hold liquid by smelling
• Rolling papers such as Zig Zags or small pipes could signal planned marijuana use
• Lightly shake a bag and listen for clanking bottles/cans
• Lighters or matches could signal the presence of tobacco or marijuana
• Cigarettes in packs or cigarette cases
• Weapons of any kind
• Flasks in socks or suit/tux breast pockets