Industry Research

Chauffeured Snowmobiles? Spare Some Sleds N’ Huskies?

Posted on February 10, 2010 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

D.C. operators adapt to double-whammy blizzards that have inundated Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions with record snowfalls.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — One advantage of the chauffeured transportation industry moving toward more and more SUVs during the last decade becomes clearer in a heavy snowfall: You can’t operate without four-wheel drive.

International Limousine Service, the only chauffeured transportation company licensed to provide point-to-point service within D.C. limits, turned into snow-movers central last weekend as it coordinated the use of 40 SUV vehicles among essential federal government personnel who still needed to get to and from work, CEO Richard Kane said.

ILS, which itself owns five SUVs, has been coordinating with its area affiliates to schedule SUV runs during and after the storms. ILS also chained the tires of 10 mini-buses for snow travel.

For Kane, the storms have meant shifting his whole operation into overdrive, with most employees needed throughout the weekend and this week to handle calls for service, maneuver vehicles over a combination of snow-packed and partially plowed streets, and maintain the vehicles between runs. ILS rented a block of rooms at a nearby hotel so employees did not have to hazard getting to and from their homes; during an interview Monday, Kane was on his way to get lunch for his employees who work at the ILS facility in northeast Washington, D.C., just minutes from Union Station and the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We’re getting a lot of phone calls [and inquiries] from the Internet, with people looking for vehicles to get out of town,” Kane said. One vehicle got stuck, and with the heavy demand for plows, employees had to spend much of Sunday shoveling snow and clearing access to the one-acre ILS lot.

By Monday, the Washington Beltway and major thoroughfares had been cleared enough for moderate travel. But by today, D.C. was buried again.

For operators, the snow-related service calls help offset the drastic loss of business from the closures and then intermittent service at the regions’ three major airports: Reagan National, Dulles International, and Baltimore/Washington International. Also, group and convention business that heavily uses motorcoaches and mini-buses was canceled, but some of that might be rescheduled.

Just outside D.C. in suburban Maryland, operator Robert Alexander of RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation in Rockville has been scrambling his chauffeurs and vehicles to handle the influx of requests to just get out of town. Business picked up Sunday as residents started shoveling out and airports reopened, although with reduced flight schedules. Some clients just wanted to be driven as far away as possible, with one client paying $1,700 for a one-way chauffeured ride to Charlotte, N.C.

While not jacking prices, Alexander said there are plenty of clients willing to pay premium rates for service. “It’s important to make sure you take what you can and deliver what you promise.

“We’ve gotten some clients to share rides in the same neighborhood or same area,” Alexander said. “Everyone has been very amendable, which is nice. The normal rules of engagement have been different. Everyone is working together and understands we are trying our best to make it work.”

RMA has been operating a fleet of about 45 owned and rented vehicles, including SUVs, and is working with other major area operators such as International Limousine Service. Like ILS, RMA has been putting essential employees up at a nearby hotel and using some of the SUVs to get snow-stranded chauffeurs to work. Alexander was holding his breath Tuesday evening, waiting for the pending double-digit snowfall of another storm set to pummel the region.

One reality of all the snow activity has been the exponential increase in phone calls, Alexander said, as clients book and rebook because airlines change flight schedules. RMA must make multiple calls back to clients to confirm each run is still needed.

At Sterling, Va.-based Reston Limousine Service, near Dulles International Airport, the staff offered up three company-owned SUVs and one rented one, which wasn’t nearly enough to handle the wave of calls for transportation service, said Tony Simon, general manager of Reston.

“It’s been mayhem. I wish we had more vehicles,” Simon said. “We’re getting calls form individuals, affiliates because of locals who couldn’t do the jobs. . . we’re getting calls from everybody. We’re helping people get to hospitals, the airports, everywhere.”

Reston, which normally operates a fleet of 140 vehicles, including many mini-buses, still retained some of its normal bus business Monday from existing corporate and government shuttle and transportation contracts, Simon said.

“We only stopped running buses on Saturday,” said Simon of the peak snow day. “Monday was a good situation where our buses were out there constantly. Even the Metro was not running, and we even had some of our routes shuttling people form location to location.” On Monday, Reston also was able to get some of its Lincoln Town Car Executive Ls back onto the road.

Bride gets a really white wedding

Despite the two-fleet plus of snow Saturday, Reston still managed to get a stretch Hummer limousine to handle a wedding in suburban northern Virginia.

“The bride was desperate, and we sent it out, and we did great,” Simon said. “It was tough, but we did it. We got there on time. The wedding went well, although many people didn’t make it, but at least we were able to get them around from place to place.”

By Wednesday, the area was expecting another 10-20 inches of snow. “We’re going through the exact same thing again,” Simon said. “We already have walls of snow shoveled. We needed a backhoe to come and clear our lot.”

— Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine

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