Ash Elmahdi, owner of Orlando- based Noble Transportation & Limousines and member of GOLA.
ORLANDO, Fla. — Ash Elmahdi, owner of Orlando-based Noble Transportation & Limousines received a round of applause from colleagues at the January monthly meeting of the Greater Orlando Limousine Association because he fought a $600 DOT fine for non-compliance — and won. Elmahdi, along with most Florida operators, have been caught off guard by stepped-up enforcement by the Florida Highway Patrol requiring operators to meet federal Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) rules. In fact, the topic also was front and center at the January meeting of the West Florida Livery Association (WFLA).
Elmahdi said he was slapped with a $600 fine ($500 for the owner, and $100 for the chauffeur who didn’t have a medical card) when one of his passenger vans was stopped at Disney World and did not have a DOT sticker. Not aware of the compliance requirement, he went through the procedures to become DOT compliant, and then took time off from work to drive almost two hours to Tampa to contest the fine before the Florida Department of Transportation Commercial Motor Vehicle Review Board.
Fortunately for Elmahdi, the nine-member panel wasn’t up to speed on the fine points of the regulations about DOT compliance and limousine companies, and after some back-and-forth arguing about the rules, and the fact that Elmahdi mentioned that operators statewide were not told they had to comply, the hearing commission dismissed the fine.
“I was the only limo guy there among a bunch of truck drivers, shipping companies and others. It appeared they couldn’t figure out if my van came under the regulations, and I had no idea I had to be in compliance and nobody ever told us,” Elmahdi said.
Florida is unique compared to other states in that DOT compliance for limousine companies was not strictly enforced, due somewhat to most operator business being intrastate, rather than interstate. But that all changed in 2011 when more than 200 DOT officers became part of the Florida Highway Patrol. These additional “troopers” were charged to enforce DOT inspections and regulations, and apparently have taken to the task with gusto.
Marc Nault of Admin 2000, a consultant specializing in DOT regulations and compliance.
However, Florida is a microcosm of the bigger DOT picture operators nationwide should be aware of stressed Marc Nault of Admin 2000, a consultant specializing in DOT regulations and compliance. Nault spoke on the topic at the GOLA and WFLA meetings.
“All of these DOT regulations have been in effect for a long time, but with the recent limousine fire accident in California, and other bus accidents around the country, enforcement of regulations nationally is stepping up,” Nault said. Although federal DOT regulations are uniform throughout the country, each state is charged with enforcement, “but in some states they add addendums or amendments that operators really need to be aware of so they are in compliance.”
Nault mentioned the mandatory insurance requirement as one example where many operators fail to comply. “Many operators believe they only need $1 million in liability coverage, but the regulations state that $1.5 million is required, and [for] 16-passenger and above vehicles, $5 million is required. That’s across the board, but I’d say 50% of operators I come in contact with don’t have the required insurance,” he noted.
Understanding that many operators — especially Florida — were not made aware by the DOT that they needed to be in compliance, Naut said he asked a DOT official, “’How do you expect these people to learn about these federal regulations?’ And he responded, ‘We are in compliance not education,’ so operators need to make sure they educate themselves.”
Elmahdi and Nault said the easiest way to avoid any run-ins with DOT enforcement is to follow the rules. “It didn’t cost me anything to get my DOT decals, just some time doing small paperwork,” Nault said. “It’s really not a compliance issue with Florida operators, it’s an education issue. Now that word is spreading they just have to become DOT compliant and realize they have to understand and follow the regulations.”
Tom Halligan is LCT East Coast editor, based in Marlton, N.J. He travels regularly to industry association meetings in the eastern U.S. Tom can be reached at [email protected]