Chauffeuring On Two Continents

Posted on January 1, 1990

Not many chauffeurs can claim they have driven professionally on opposite sides of the world over the last 30 years, but Roy Onslow can. And in each instance—whether in England or Canada has brought the same energetic spirit and professional attitude to the job.

Veteran chauffeur Roy Onslow says, “A chauffeur should look after the needs of the passenger.”
Veteran chauffeur Roy Onslow says, “A chauffeur should look after the needs of the passenger.”

Onslow’s career as a driver has covered thousands of miles—first in Great Britain as an ambulance driver and a corporate chauffeur, and later in Canada as a private chauffeur and corporate driver. Today, Onslow is a corporate chauffeur for KP Manufacturers in Calgary, a furniture manufacturing company. To many, Calgary is known for its annual Calgary Stampeded, its hockey team, and as the host of the 1988 Winter Olympics, but this western Canadian city of more than 600,000 people has an established corporate economy.

“I’ve always liked to see places and wander around,” says Onslow, who started driving an ambulance in England in 1959. From there, he worked as a private chauffeur and in 1967 moved to Canada and has worked as a corporate chauffeur, both full-time and part-time, ever since. “I drove an ambulance for the London City Council for 10 years. I guess you can look at ambulance driving as a type of chauffeuring—it still involves looking after people.”

His ambulance driving experience helped him prepare for his job as a chauffeur, he says. “Because of the stressful conditions, you get to know people very quickly. I’ve learned you have to establish a rapport with your client, whether it be medical or as a normal chauffeur. I realize you have to be friendly. I think that comes from begin with the ambulance in England where I picked up lords and ladies and also picked up winos in the street. Everybody should get the same exact treatment.”

Chauffeuring Qualities

Onslow’s experience has enabled him to create a list of good qualities that are essential to being a good chauffeur. “First of all, I think you have to be patient—a lot of the time you are sitting around waiting. They say patience is a virtue,” he says. “Second, you have to know the area you’re working in and also be adaptable if you are traveling. You should be able to drive into a strange city and just by reading maps have a fairly good understanding of where you are going and where you are coming from.”

Onslow cites honestly as an important chauffeuring trait and says he once obtained a job as a private driver because of that characteristic. “I think you have to be honest with your employer as well as expect honestly in return. When I first started driving as a private chauffeur, I took over the position of the previous chauffeur who had been fired for stealing a nickel,” he says. “HE was asking for more expense money than he was using and it amounted to a nickel. That’s all it was. When you have access to people’s private property, you can’t afford to be light-fingered.”

Another important quality of chauffeuring is the ability to associate well with clients, advises Onslow. “You have to be able to recognize the type of client you are picking up very quickly. You have to be able to associate on their level. I drive the family [of his current employers] around also, a 13 and 14-year-old girl and boy. You have to be able to apply yourself with them as well.” Onslow and his wife have five children of their own, so he definitely has experience identifying with kids.

In this same vein, Onslow believes the most rewarding aspect of being a chauffeur is meeting people. “You hear so many bad things about different people, different colors, different races. I like to form my own opinion,” he asserts.


The final, and perhaps the most important, characteristic is flexibility. “It’s not unusual for my employer to phone me up late at night and say, ‘I need a ride home.’ I carry a cellular phone with me all the time.”

The importance of flexibility is apparent just by looking at Onslow’s daily routine. In the morning he receives a schedule of runs, but invariably ends up doing trips that aren’t on the agenda. His employer’s brother also owns a large company in the area, so he often works with them. Sometimes, Onslow finds himself aiding friends of his employer’s family.

Flexibility is especially important to Onslow around Christmas, when he tends to work long hours. An 18-hour day is not unusual during the holiday season. The demanding schedule sometimes includes runs until 4 a.m. and pick-ups the next morning at 8 a.m.

Onslow drives a 60-inch stretch, 1988 Lincoln Town Car on his runs. In preparation for a trip, he conducts standard vehicle maintenance—checking the fuel, fluid levels, and tire pressure. “During the cold weather, I never let the gas tank below half. I try to keep it full most of the time so I don’t have any problem with fuel. I make sure she’s clean on the outside. Unfortunately we don’t keep the vehicle inside during the day so quite often it gets covered with snow.” He usually washes down the car with a soft cloth in the morning.

Inside the vehicle, he meticulously vacuums the upholstery and carpeting. “I make sure the vehicle is stocked with different wines, three liquors, and that the glasses are clean and applicable for either red or white wine. In the winter when the car sits outside, the cold Canadian climate will sometimes freeze the wine; consequently, Onslow has to bring the bottles indoors. He also carries extra glasses and a case of mixers for drinks in the trunk.

England vs. Canada

Onslow has noticed some differences between England and North America—besides driving on opposite sides of the road. “Some of the common courtesies, what I call class, are still not here in Canada yet,” he says. “I have to explain to clients that when the vehicle stops, don’t open the doors or get out until I open them. Not specifically because I want to do it, but because of safety. When you are sitting in a car that has clacked-out glass, you can’t always see another vehicle passing. You might lose a door and quite possibly be pulled out and underneath the vehicle.”

“What I’ve found in England is that people wait for you to wait on them. Here, a lot of the younger people tend to try to avoid that personal contact,” he continues. “I enjoy it when I get a person that lets me help the, wait on them, and make a fuss over them, I feel good, and they feel as if they’ve been treated well. “In some cases, his royal treatment of clients has paid off dividends for the company, he adds.

Another major difference between the two countries is the driving examination. The basic driving test in England is much more comprehensive than in Canada. The English test, Onslow explains, involves a two-hour driving session with an ex-police instructor in city and highway traffic. The driver must give a verbal commentary of relative things that appear on the road and describe your actions.

Onslow almost plied his trade on a third continent—Australia. The ambulance service he worked for in the 1960s had a program whereby a driver could transfer to Australia. Onslow and his wife decided he would move down there but changed their minds and headed for Canada.

Improving the Profession

Onslow believes that the image of the limousine industry will never improve until the public becomes more educated. “Quite often I’m introduced as, ‘Roy, the driver of the limousine.’ I try to explain to them that I’m not a driver,’ I am a chauffeur which is a little but more encompassing whereas I look after their needs a little bit more. It’s more of a personal contact than just driving the vehicle from A to B.”

“A chauffeur should look after the needs of the passenger,” he continues. “When I pick up someone at the airport, often times a company representative is with me and we end up taking people back to the hotel and out to dinner.  I then become part of the entourage and often get to know the people and they get to know me. That creates a good rapport.”

Onslow doesn’t believe everyone can be a chauffeur, either because they lack the personal skills or aren’t mechanically inclined enough to operate a limousine.

“Limousines aren’t just for special occasions,” he adds. “Quite often people ask me, How can your boss afford to run a limousine?” I say, “It’s not a limo, it’s a mobile office. They use it for business. If you conduct business in the back of a vehicle in a relaxed situation while traveling, then you’ve used that time to the best advantage. I think a lot of people don’t realize that.”

Onslow doesn’t anticipate remaining a chauffeur forever. “I’m 53 years old and I’ve been around the business for 25 years,” he recalls. “I enjoy working with people. I’ve worked in the restaurant business as well. I had a small restaurant of my own and have always been involved with the public. I’m here for a while anyway. Whether that’s going to continue, I’m not sure.”

Chauffeur Demographics

The average chauffeur is a 34-year-old male who earns $7.05 per hour and has been with the company two-and-a-half years. this is just one of the results of a recent Limousine & Chauffeur Operator Survey regarding chauffeurs.

Chauffeurs are a dynamic group covering all types of personalities and age groups—from college students to struggling actors to senior citizens. The survey attempts to find out more about these men and women and detail what some of their duties are, as well as find out the biggest problems associated with chauffeuring.

The range of chauffeur’s ages varies greatly. Among the respondents, the average age of the oldest chauffeur on staff is 48.3 years, while the average age of the youngest chauffeur is 29 years. the oldest chauffeur among the operators who replied to the survey was 68 years old.

On the other end of the scale, many operators listed that they have drivers who are 21 years old. Female chauffeurs continue to be a rarity in the industry. Among the staffs of the responding operators, just 5.4 percent of full and part time chauffeurs are women. The fact that chauffeurs are women. The fact that chauffeuring can be done on a part-time basis remains an attractive part of the job—for both the driver and the operator. Part-time drivers outnumber full-time drivers nearly four-to-one.

Because many chauffeurs are part-time workers, only 53 percent of operators offer workman’s compensation to their drivers. Meanwhile, operators are split 50-50 on treating their chauffeurs as independent contractors versus employees. This issue is currently being investigated by the National Limousine Association. The organization is examining the livery industry by geographic area to determine if there is a predominance of independent contractor relationships in a given area. If so, then the Internal Revenue Service may recognize chauffeurs as independent contractors.

Regarding gratuities, 35 percent of operators always include gratuities in the invoice; 47 percent sometimes do; and 18 percent never include the tip. The average tip, according to the survey, is 14 percent of the total bill.

Chauffeuring Duties

Less than half the operators provide a training manual for their chauffeurs, while two-thirds of operators train their new chauffeurs by either riding with them themselves or placing the new driver with an experienced chauffeur for a few runs. A handful provide training tapes or incest in a training course.

How do operators maintain quality assurance? “We have two-way radios so we know where the chauffeurs are at any time. This way I can inquire to see how well they are handling the stress of the job,” says Dennis Creighton of Dynasty L.T.D. Limousine Service in Indiana. “I also check with customers a lot to see how they rate out overall service.” Other operators utilize surprise spot checks to maintain quality.

A predominance of chauffeurs are required to wear a suit when working, while less than one third require a uniform. Also, about one-third of chauffeurs are wearing hats and gloves. One operation has their drivers wearing a company tie.


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