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Virginia Limousine Association board members (L to R): Andrea Saathoff, Henry Potter, Randy Allen, Paul Walsh, and Barry Shapiro (no longer on board).
RICHMOND, Va. — In a state revered for its numerous historical battlegrounds, the Virginia Limousine Association has seen a string of victories, or at least compromises that give operators what they need to improve their business environment.
“One of the good things about operating in the state of Virginia relative to a lot of other states is we have good working relationships with airports,” said Randy Allen of James Limousine, who was VLA President at the time of this interview in August. “We’ve not had a lot of push back against operators with outrageous fees and restrictions. We took care of a lot of issues 10 years ago with a cooperative approach and helped the Legislature rewrite rules for the limousine industry and avoided many issues.”
The VLA has worked with government agencies and other business sectors to get results. Among significant victories that have helped simplify the conduct of business for operators:
- Two years ago, the State Legislature made all limousine licenses valid statewide instead of a regional system that required multiple licenses if they wanted to conduct business in various parts of the state.
- The VLA played a role in getting the state Department of Motor Vehicles to separately issue licenses for for-hire ground transportation instead of licensing the sector in a broader classification that included medical transportation. “It allowed regulations to apply differently, so you’re not trying to apply medical and luxury transportation regulations to each other,” Allen said.
The VLA also monitors state legislation affecting transportation businesses, particularly rules about driver communications such as use of handheld phones and texting. VLA leaders provide input on laws to help protect the ability of chauffeurs to safely and efficiently communicate with their dispatch centers.
Finding illegal operators
Success in working with the government has set the stage for the VLA combatting what Allen calls “a number one concern”: Illegal operators. The VLA has joined with law enforcement agencies to cooperate in identifying illegal operators since the DMV designated more time and funds for targeted enforcement efforts. The problem is most prevalent in the Virginia Beach and Northern Virginia metro regions, with many illegals using Craigslist as a platform to get business. But it’s also a good source of leads for law enforcement.
The VLA is educating members and Virginia operators overall on specific information to observe or look for when encountering a suspected illegal operator that can help authorities. “If there is specific information we can provide to help build a case and take action, then that is more beneficial than turning in a name,” Allen said.
Winning over wineries
On the business side, the VLA has been working to expand opportunities for operators in the weddings and winery markets. “We had a wedding planner speak on how to be a good supplier for wedding transportation, and we’ve had a similar type of meeting with winery owners and operators,” Allen said.
The meeting with winery owners helped both business groups understand how to better work together when limousine clients visit wineries. “It was very educational and helped our members understand that with a little communication, you don’t just show up at wineries with 10 people unannounced,” Allen said. “If you communicate and prepare, they will welcome business.”
Among the topics the VLA has presented to help operators are business budgeting during tough economic times, human resources guidelines to conducting successful job interviews, and updates from the DOT and FMCSA on rules and regulations that affect operators. “We’ve been doing everything we could to help local members survive the last few years,” Allen said. “We’ve held meetings. . . as much as possible through tough times.”
The VLA also holds an annual roundtable on industry trends gathered from officers and members who attend the International LCT Show in Las Vegas. “We’re trying to keep them informed of what’s happening in the industry,” Allen said. “Many are small operators who don’t travel to industry events.”
One of the group’s annual highlights is a spring Prom Parade, which it’s held three of the last five years. About 20 to 30 limousine vehicles join vehicles from the Virginia Highway Patrol and Richmond City Police for a motorcade that promotes safe transportation for school proms.