A new set of limousine regulations and passenger pick-up procedures has been enacted at Los Angeles International Airport and life for livery operators hasn’t been the same since. Regulations now require limousine operators to register vehicles with the Department of Landside Operations once a year, and pay a $1.50 fee before making each pick-up.
Initially, the new regulations were greeted with widespread opposition from limousine operators who objected to the airport’s authority to impose its own policies and collect fees, particularly without designating curb space for passenger loading. The Limousine Owners Association of California filed a suit challenging the airport’s permit program and requesting an injunction preventing its implementation.
The request for an injunction was denied but, according to L.O.A.C President Glenn Barrons, the L.O.A.C has appealed the decision to the California Court of Appeals. The case is expected to be tried within the next year.
In the meantime, however, the airport has begun enforcing its regulations and the attention of many operators has turned to documenting their PUC registration, obtaining proof of insurance, and filing applications for airport stickers. In some cases, delays in the documentation process have resulted in tickets from airport police.
“I went to pick up a longstanding client,” reports a chauffeur with one large and respected Los Angeles limousine service, “and while I was parked at the curb, an officer came over and said, ‘You have one of two choices, either get this car out of here now or, if I see you pick up someone, I will give you a ticket and the next time I see you here I will have you arrested.’ I said, ‘I’m not leaving because I have people to pick up and I’m not going to lose my job.’
“He waited and, when my passenger came out, he proceeded to write me up. Then he took my client’s name, address, and telephone number in case they wanted him as a witness. The client was very upset. He threatened to cancel his account and did not pay for the order.”
Although the limousine company was licensed and insured, the company had recently incorporated and was waiting to receive its new PUC number. In many other cases, operators are being delayed as their insurance carriers process proof of insurance forms. In early May, however, the Landside Operations Office responded to the problem by beginning to issue temporary stickers to operators with applications in process.
The airport has also tried to assuage operators by pointing out that the new enforcement procedures are netting a large number of unlicensed and uninsured limousines. “If they are getting the illegals,”says Fred Ruppert of Music Express, one of the founding officers of the L.O.A.C., “then the $1.50 is worth it. There has been unbelievable competition at LAX. They solicit in the baggage area and quote ridiculously low prices to various parts of town. Some of my customers have overheard them and called me wanting to know why we can’t give them the same rate.”
While limousine operators are still largely suspicious that the new airport regulations will make their lives easier or more profitable, most are now attempting to comply.
“The most important reason (for the appeal),” according to L.O.A.C President Barrons, “is what the permit program signifies. It will be the first major step to deregulation in our industry...Many other airports and municipalities have either designed, adopted, or have pending plans for license or permit programs all awaiting the outcome of the LAX permit program.”
Limousine & Chauffeur editor and associate publisher Scott Fletcher recently discussed the new airport procedures with Tom Drischler, Transportation Services Coordinator of Landside Operations with the Department of Airports in the City of Los Angeles. Drischler outlined the airport’s enforcement efforts and commented on the future of limousine regulation at LAX.
L&C: How many limousine operators are registered at the airport?
Drischler: We’re up to about 65 charter party carriers who have permits at the airport.
Senior management at the airport just decided to issue temporary authority to everyone who has applied. As of May 7, we had mailed out temporary permits to about 150 companies. Those will be good until the 27th of May.
The biggest problem we’ve had with the registration process has been the verification of insurance. In many instances, companies have had the coverage they needed but their agents did not execute the forms correctly and our risk management people have a ten-day time frame to respond so, if there’s a mistake, people are getting delayed two or three weeks. Apart from that, we feel the charter system itself is working very well.
L&C: How do limousines tend to pick up clients now?
Drischler: It varies from company to company. I think the majority of them will park in the public lots, try to make contact with the party in the terminal, and then drive over and pick them up. A significant number of them will drive up to the curb and try to meet them that way.
L&C: Is that when they are most likely to get a ticket?
L&C: Do you enforce the regulations on any vehicle with a TCP sticker?
Drischler: Yes and we’ve been enforcing it against many that don’t have TCP stickers, or phony TCP stickers, or someone else’s number on the vehicle. Since we started enforcement on April 4th, we have found a great many operators who are outright illegal. Their insurance is questionable but they certainly have no state authority. Frankly, if the general public knew the level of lawlessness in the industry to the extent that I know it, it would be a real black eye for the industry.
L&C: Can you give me an estimate?
Drischler: I haven’t broken down the number but I’d estimate that a majority, more than 50 percent, of the limousines being cited here do not have state authority. Of that number, probably half had their authority at one time and it has since expired. The rest of them either never had a number or are using someone else’s number. What we have found surprised even me and I thought I was pretty cynical already.
L&C: Had your office been looking for unlicensed vehicles prior to the new regulations?
Drischler: We didn’t really have the means prior to the new regulations.
L&C: So there really is a benefit for licensed operators now that you are regulating limousines?
Drischler: Absolutely Up until now, we have not been arresting companies just because they didn’t have LAX authority. In many instances, our officers have written what is called an application for complaint which is as though you arrested somebody only you didn’t actually arrest them. They file them with the District Attorney’s office in West Los Angeles and it’s up to them to look at the merits of the case and see if they want to file for a violation of Los Angeles Administrative Code 2327 B (Doing business at the airport without a permit.)
These complaint applications certainly do not carry the force of an arrest but we felt that we didn’t need to be extremely heavy handed when we began our enforcement. We wanted to give companies every reasonable opportunity to get registered. We feel that they have now had more than enough time and they have temporary authority to display on their vehicles. What we’re going to do is begin arresting.
I know we have had a tremendous impact on the number of illegal operators here because the PUC office in San Francisco has been swamped with new requests for PUC authority.
L&C: What do you do with privately owned limousines?
Drischler: Basically, the airport police check to see if they have commercial registration. I’ve been contacted by about 20 companies or individuals that have privately held limousines and they have all indicated a willingness to display some sort of non-revenue decal on a voluntary basis so they will not be bothered. We are considering that. We’d have to develop some very specific criteria, get it cleared with the District Attorney’s Office, and also be very careful that it doesn’t get in the wrong hands or anything of that nature.
L&C: Is there a need for some kind of an advisory group?
Drischler: We have the Landside Operations Department and, if it’s a policy decision, it’s forwarded to the Airport Manager Steven Yee. When our program was adopted by the Board of Airport Commissioners last September, they mandated that six months after the start of the program we would have public hearings in which the operators could step forward and make comments that pertain to the way the program is administered. Since we began enforcing in April, the hearings will probably be in September at which point we’ll be happy to consider any suggestions
L&C: Did your office compile the background information that led to the current regulations?
L&C: It seems like you should have some industry input.
Drischler: We’d be willing to consider that. There used to be a limousine advisory committee that I think broke up about a year before I came on board and I’ve been here two years. Apparently it depended on whether there was a hot issue at hand as to whether people would show up. After a while, I guess it just disbanded but I think we’d be willing to consider such a thing with the TCPs. We do have what amounts to an advisory committee for PSCs (Passenger Stage Corporations) and they meet once a month with the company that runs the information booths in the central terminal areas that are paid for by PSC fees.
L&C: Do trip tickets have to have client names?
Drischler: No. I think there’s some confusion between a trip ticket and a waybill. A trip ticket is what you get for your $1.50. On the trip ticket it has the decal number, the time and date, and the terminal dispatched to. The waybill is required as a backup document in the event that airport police suspect that there’s something wrong with the decal or the trip ticket. The waybill is not routinely asked for. The airport police, I believe, are allowed to ask clients for their names although they can’t demand it. They cannot force clients to produce their names.
L&C: Is limousine curb space a possibility?
Drischler: Not formally.
L&C: Is there a guideline to how long a limousine can park at the curb before being asked to move?
Drischler: Basically you have to be in the process of loading.
L&C: Would you describe the enforcement program?
Drischler: Right now there are ten officers assigned to the unit. There will be from two to four officers on duty at any time. Usually there are two officers on duty at night. We are looking at every possible means to add to those numbers. As far as enforcing charter party carriers, that’s pretty close to an adequate number but they also have to enforce courtesy vehicles and PSCs so they really get spread thin.
L&C: How should operators resolve individual problems?
Drischler: They can contact our office. We’re down the hall from the Risk Management Bureau and we check on problems with insurance filings for ground transportation operators. We’ve gotten to the point where we recommend that operators submit their insurance papers to us and allow us to walk them down the hall. Also, we like to photocopy them and keep copies in their file so we can keep track of them too. Generally when someone clears the risk management bureau we issue decals immediately. We’ve gotten our part of the registration process down to a pretty fine art and we process very quickly now.
L&C: Some operators feel that the airport doesn’t have the right to regulate public streets.
Drischler: That was addressed in a court action filed by limousine operators and the ruling was very definitely in favor of the airport. They are private roadways that we have the right to regulate. That question is pretty well cut and dried now.
L&C: Do you foresee any changes in the overall airport ground transportation policies? Will we have the same fee, for example, for the next year or so?
Drischler: Yes. Within the week, we’re putting out for bid a computerized revenue control system. TCP operators will be able to establish an account with us, put some money on deposit, and we will issue them a card with a bar code for each decal. They can just hand it to the booth operator and it will automatically debit their account and issue a trip ticket instantly. It will eliminate the exchange of money.
Because of the nature of the business, we feel we need to verify the operating authority and insurance coverage on a day to day basis with each of the operators because there are so many companies going out of business and losing their authority and losing their insurance. For the time being, this is what we’re going to stick with and we’re doing everything possible to make it run smoothly. In the first few weeks, there was a delay or two at shift changes but we’ve gotten that all straightened out.
When the program started up, some of the booth operators were given a bad time by some of the drivers at the charter lot. I called some of the companies involved and said “If you don’t like the system then complain to me but the booth operator is someone who was hired and trained and went to work. They didn’t create the system.”
I’ve gotten positive as well as negative feedback on the system. There is a very definite element that recognizes that, if we can really clean out the illegals, they’re going to benefit.