Even though the federal government estimates that one out of six Americans are disabled, you don’t hear much about serving these people in the livery industry. But we recently received notices from two companies, Limousine Werks and Federal Coach, that they now offer limousines designed to accommodate the handicapped. Both models feature extended rear doors to provide additional access, along with modified seats to assist entry from a wheelchair.
I wondered whether the introduction of these limousines might help to open a new market for livery operators to pursue in these highly competitive times, so I called one operator who I can count on for a candid opinion. “I haven’t done too much work for handicapped people,” he said, “but I can tell you two things. They usually prefer to sit in the front seat because it’s easier to get to, and you need leather upholstery instead of velour so they can slide across the seat.”
“But, don’t handicapped people sometimes want to go out in the back of a limousine like other people?” I asked. “And, if you were to advertise that your company is equipped and trained to serve the disabled, couldn’t that be good potential business as well as a positive statement about the attitude of your company?”
“No, you’re barking up the wrong ramp,” he replied, “We’re not bus operators. If you want to broaden your market, you should go after funeral business.”
This operator may be right... There may be more tempting markets than the disabled community for livery operators, but we believe it would be beneficial for operators to add a line such as “Our chauffeurs are trained to provide for special needs,” to ads and company literature. The disabled deserve access to livery service, and prospective customers concerned about quality service will certainly notice that message when browsing through the yellow pages.
In the New York area, an alliance of regional limousine associations continues to work toward acceptable regulations for suburban livery operators to provide service for their customers in New York City as long as they do not advertise or solicit business in the city. Led by local operators Rich Guberti, Bob Verde, Doug Major, Allen Serafin, Ron Goldberg, and Barbara Pastelak, the alliance has proposed alternatives to operators joining the NYC T&LC.
In recent months, the alliance has gained the support of New York State Assembly members from regions surrounding New York City. In a joint letter to the deputy mayor of New York City in March, these representatives denounced the T&LC plan and proposed a direct dialog on the issue between themselves and the mayor s office.
“Resolving this problem is one of our main goals this year,” said NLA executive director Wayne Smith. While the end of the problem is not yet in sight, the limousine industry has probably never been as organized and focused on any issue before. There are some 2,000 livery operators in the New York area, and we encourage everyone to get involved. Contributions to help defray the legal costs of this effort should be directed to the NLA.