Page 1 of 2
Limousine & Chauffeur contributor Rich Ramis recently spoke with Buddy Stein about his long experience in the limousine and taxi industries in Chicago. Stein has been a professional driver for more than twenty years and now owns and operates ESX Limousine in Chicago. Stein is an advocate of comprehensive chauffeur training and other means of increasing the professionalism and public recognition of drivers and chauffeurs. He is currently involved in the formation of the Greater Chicagoland Association.
Ramis: You were originally in the taxicab business weren’t you?
Stein: I suppose that my first love was taxicabs.
Ramis: Why’d you get out of the taxicab business?
Stein: Well, it was a momentary bit of insanity that caused me to go into the limousine business. The limousine business has a different beat to it. The cab business has a beat like this... (clicks his fingers medium-fast). And the limo business has a beat that goes like this (clicks his fingers very slowly). I thought it would be more interesting and profitable to carry one person for fifteen dollars instead of fifteen people for one dollar. That is essentially the relationship between the cab and the limo.
Ramis: What similarities have you found between the taxicab business and the limousine business?
There’s absolutely no difference between the cab business and the limo business when it comes to the driver — defensive driving and things like courtesy and service. The more you serve the public, the more money you make. Safety is also common to both the cab business and the limo business because you are working at a high rate of mileage accumulation over a period of a year. The probability of getting into an accident is very great in either business.
Ramis: Most people tend to disagree. They would say that limo-taxi-bus people, with more miles of experience, have less probability of accidents.
Stein: No. The probability increases if the person drives 10,000 miles a year. I think the “average” driver ‘drives 10,000 to 15,000 miles a year. Sure they drive during the rush hour, but they will avoid bad driving conditions and they’ll take public transportation. Whereas the professional driver is out on the road in the rush hour, in snow and rain, and in the most adverse of conditions because that is when his service is most needed. And the interim ground transportation business, such as the taxicab and the limo, are called upon when a customer wants to leave their car at home because of adversity. The more adverse it gets, the more the cab and limo will function. However, let’s just talk about probability. And this I bring up quite often. If a person drives 10,000 miles a year, the probability of having an accident will be X. If they drive 100,000 miles a year, it’s not 10 XX, it’s 100 XX because of exposure. Just being on the street, and being involved in situations, doesn’t increase it ten times if you drive ten times the mileage, it increases it 100 to 500 times. I don’t know if you can understand the probability factor — it increases 100-fold rather than just 10-fold, because it encompasses every adversity and every adverse period of time during the day.
Ramis: How do you think the public views professional drivers?
Stein: Drivers are generally demeaned by the public. There is a total lack of recognition for taxi and limo drivers. If a child asks a parent what they should be, they never say “Be a chauffeur.” They say, “Be a doctor or a lawyer or a professional person of some kind.”
Education is extremely important in gaining more respect for drivers. I mentioned before about driving high miles. Everybody is an average driver until they drive over 40,000 or 50,000 miles a year. Then they need to have special training along with a philosophy about their work. They must be equipped with the tools of the trade. There is an apprenticeship in almost every trade and in our business, I’m sad to say, they throw the person right in a vehicle — it’s called the “warm body principle” — and they put him on the street. “Here’s the key to number 16 Johnny so, hey, go be a man.” I don’t believe in this and I never have.
Consequently, what you do is burn off a lot of talented people who don’t make money, or who have an accident, or who get robbed or cheated. We must prepare drivers to face the hazards in the industry, and they need to learn what I call “total defensive driving.” Defensive driving is not enough...it has to be total defensive driving. You have all of these negative things to contend with in a very long and exhausting day...overtiredness, unexpected problems, and a lot of negative things that you have to prepare for.
Ramis: Should limousine drivers set an example for other professional drivers since we are at the top in professional driving?
Stein: I think that is a very snobbish perspective. There are quality people in every type of driving. Every driver has a responsibility to maintain professional standards. This will help improve the image of cab and truck drivers as well as chauffeurs. There are a lot of people who have been driving for 20 years, and have earned enough to put their kids through school but, when they try to get credit at the bank, they find that driving is regarded in our society as an interim occupation. It is not a career, it is not a profession, and it is not a trade. It is just there. It is there for the guy who wakes up one morning and says, “Gee, I’m a little low on money, I better go and drive a cab or limo.” There is no reason for this image to continue.
There is a need for more training programs within the industry. Every other industry has some kind of program. They have vocational schools for mechanics and there are training programs for electricians and other tradesmen. Driving is also a professional trade, and the responsibility undertaken by drivers is even greater than in many other trades. We need a total training and apprenticeship program in our industry.
Ramis: Limousine services do train their people in one way or another. They more or less treat them like the helpers on Coca Cola trucks. They show them how to load the luggage, and they do a little behind the wheel training for a few days.
Stein: But who’s training that person? A professional trainer?
Ramis: No. A driver who got the same treatment a month before.