Music Express CEO Cheryl Berkman is helping lead the limousine industry in its pursuit of fair competition between chauffeured vehicle services and Transportation Network Companies.
BURBANK, Calif. — One of the largest and longest running chauffeured transportation networks in the world wants to make sure affiliates get an important message: Don’t touch that Uber app.
The 700-plus affiliates of Burbank-based Music Express have received multiple memos from CEO and owner Cheryl Berkman in the past year warning that affiliates doing runs for Uber cannot remain members of the Music Express affiliate network.
Any affiliate wishing to do business with Uber should advise their affiliate manager. If Music Express finds out an affiliate has served Uber, that affiliate will be immediately dropped from the Music Express network.
In an interview with LCT this week, Berkman said the matter boils down to safety and regulatory parity.
Berkman said affiliates that do business with Uber are prone to diminishing Music’s high standards of full insurance coverage, chauffeur training and background checks, regular fleet maintenance, and rigorous compliance with all applicable state, local and federal ground transportation rules.
“I believe that Music Express for 41 years had to meet every regulatory issue brought upon us,” Berkman said. “When companies out there are sidelining every regulatory issue, then that is just unfair. It gets very scary with insurance and lack of background checks. We would never put clients in danger like that.”
Many Music affiliates are smaller operations in smaller cities with five to 20 vehicles who are getting battered by the unfair competition and whose chauffeurs are sometimes lured by Transportation Network Companies. “I know they are getting hit with Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, and they need to keep their doors open.”
So far, affiliates have towed the line, and none have been dismissed, Berkman said. “I got many calls and letters back thanking me for doing this because Uber is hitting in smaller cities and hurting our industry. It’s happening to all of us, whether we realize it or not.”
The advent and growth of TNCs has put safety concerns at the forefront of the ground transportation industry. Chauffeured transportation companies such as Music Express have to ensure they don’t expose their clients to the growing risks presented by inconsistently regulated and sometimes illegal TNCs.
“We have to do everything in our power to make sure clients get into a safe vehicle that is well maintained,” Berkman said. “We know if a chauffeur has been on the road too long and needs to pull off or if he has had meal and rest breaks. It scares me that I could farm a ride to an affiliate that has become Uber, and that they are not following regulatory standards. That’s what worries me.”
The solution is simple, Berkman said: Regulate limousine companies and TNCs the same. “I have to answer to too many regulatory issues and they don’t have to. Any time, the California Highway Patrol will knock on my door and look at records for buses and vehicles. Uber doesn’t have to do that. Who’s watching them?”
Music Express, founded in 1973 by Cheryl’s father, Harold Berkman, has on-the-ground operations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C. The company ranks No. 3 this year on LCT’s annual 50 Largest Fleets List with 441 company owned and operated vehicles.
“This industry has been my life for 41 years,” Berkman said, “and I’m not willing to watch it go down the drain because someone calls themselves an app company.”