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[NOTE: This is the digital version of the Editor's Letter column in the January 2014 issue of LCT].
One of my more positive experiences circulating in the chauffeured transportation industry is seeing how businesspeople advocate on behalf of it. Anyone plugged into the industry in recent years knows we’re not confronting the best of times.
While the industry is recovering and adding operators in a slowly growing economy, the cluster of issues facing the industry are unprecedented in scope and number. We are covering plenty of them in the pages of this magazine, but just reciting the partial list drives the point: Uber and mobile apps; Obamacare rollout; labor-related lawsuits; revenue-hungry governments; the big limo fire and strict new safety rules; illegal operators; rising vehicle insurance costs; and the warp speed of social media and Internet technologies.
Oh, and by the way, Happy New Year. I don’t mean to get anyone down by pointing out the abundant challenges ahead in 2014. So, I’d like to spotlight three industry figures who fuel optimism by showing how to get up, speak up and get things done:
Erich Reindl: The Houston operator took on a big role this year as President of the Houston Area Livery & Charter Association (HALCA). In just one year since forming the group, Reindl has had to kick start fundraising, recruit new members, establish budgets, set spending rules and fund-raising goals, and channel the remnants of the previous association, the Limousine Association of Houston, into HALCA. The results are coming in, with a paid membership of 80 as of December, also a reflection of the group’s broader purpose under the “Livery & Charter” banner. HALCA also built up a bank account from zero to $34,000, and threw a holiday party that drew 180 members and guests. If HALCA stays on track, it will be the largest industry trade group in Texas, and maybe between the two coasts. Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S. with a booming economy and jobs sector, as noted in my ride last month on the outer beltway through the suburbs dotted with cranes and office parks.
Reindl and HALCA leaders want to get moving on many fronts, starting with a discount program for members that offset fees. More people and money means more momentum to tackle regulatory issues affecting Houston operators. 2014 renews the ongoing battle against the “double taxation” of city and airport permitting fees that can range from $950 to $1,200 per year, per vehicle. Reindl’s Avanti Transportation, for example, shells out $35,000 to $38,000 annually just for the privilege of doing business with its 35-vehicle fleet. Other issues: The need for more limo parking spaces at the George W. Bush Intercontinental Airport; Uber trying to get a foothold in the Houston market, prompting a fight for a fair regulatory playing field. “I believe in numbers,” Reindl tells me. “The more numbers and members you have, the more clout you get. The board gets more credibility, and you can attract a good, diversified group.”
Mark Stewart: Along with credibility comes authority and then achievement. Stewart, an Orange County, Calif., operator who finished up three years as President of the Greater California Livery Association last month, led the group to its most successful point in its 25 years. The three years of his presidency coincided with a perfect storm of problems that underscore the cliché: Only in California. The chauffeured transportation industry in the state with the most operators has confronted aggressive green vehicle rules at airports, rising fees and permitting costs, growth in illegal ground transportation activity, proliferation of ride sharing vehicle app businesses, and most recently, limo retrofit mandates following the fatal stretch limousine fire near San Francisco on May 4.