MIAMI — The chauffeured transportation industry scored a major victory Monday with confirmation that Avis WeDriveU has ceased its operations in Miami-Dade County.
The county had become a national focal point for the controversial Avis chauffeured drive model which avoided the rules and regulations required of chauffeured transportation operators of luxury vehicles. By not playing on a level playing field, Avis WeDriveU had the potential to seriously undermine the longstanding business model of chauffeured transportation operators and thereby radically remake the industry. Avis also was not required to follow the consistent standards of safety, reliability, and quality that have become the hallmarks of law-abiding, license-paying chauffeured operators.
The Miami-Dade County Consumer Services Department ruled that Avis would have to follow country ordinances that require permits, fees, licenses, safety and background checks, and other regulations that apply to luxury chauffeured vehicles, said Ron Sorci, president of the NLA and CFO of Miami-based Aventura Worldwide Transportation. Avis had managed to avoid these rules by forming two separate companies — one for its chauffeured rental vehicles, and another one for its chauffeur service.
The department told Avis they were not in compliance with the rules and regulations of the county’s chauffeured transportation ordinance, Sorci said. Officials also determined that Avis was violating its concessions agreement with the Miami International Airport. As a result, the Consumer Services Department received a letter from an Avis attorney confirming that the car rental agency had ceased its chauffeured service in the county, Sorci said.
Sorci said the decision has national implications for the industry. “The same arguments we made in Dade County are the same arguments you can make in other counties throughout the U.S.”
Since Avis began operating, the NLA, the Florida Ground Transportation Association, the Florida Limousine Association, the West Florida Limousine Association, and other NLA-affiliated associations nationwide have been blowing the whistle on such regulatory inequities. The decision against Avis this week culminates many meetings between association leaders and county officials, industry awareness efforts, and a videotaped expose of Avis chauffeured practices that were given to the Miami-Dade department.
Miami now joins Phoenix and Atlanta as the cities were Avis chauffeured operations have been beaten back, Sorci said.
The Miami-Dade decision concludes this phase of a 15-month battle for Carla Boroday, president of the Florida Ground Transportation Association and owner of Associated Limousine in Miami. Boroday was instrumental in first alerting the department to the Avis problem in the first quarter of 2008. She and other operators then repeatedly met with the Consumer Services Department through its Limousine Advisory Board.
“As far as we’re concerned, Avis was like a gypsy operator,” Boroday said. “They didn’t follow all the rules and regulations like everyone else did.”
Boroday said issuance of the final decision took a long time because the department wanted to make sure Avis would cease chauffeured operations at all airports and venues throughout the county.
Avis also is supposed to pull any WeDriveU advertisments in the county, she said.
Boroday remains cautiously optimistic that the problem has been resolved. Avis can still retain WeDriveU as a separate company, and continues to advertise the services of chauffeurs for clients’ personal cars, instead of rental cars.
“I hoping that this is the end,” Boroday said. “But what’s to stop WeDriveU from hooking up with someone else? Can they still be a personal chauffeur service? Is that a way of getting around it?”
A recent letter to a client promoted a $36.80 per hour personal chauffeur, with the first hour free. “Why waste thousands of dollars on limousine services?” the letter stated.
Now, the FGTA and other associations need to tackle the Avis chauffeured operations in other counties, such as Broward and Palm Beach, where going after the company is a bit more difficult.
Miami-Dade was a logical focal point for the battle because of its heavy regulatory atmosphere, Boroday said. “If ordinances were to be broken, that’s where they’d be broken. Palm Beach is open entry where it’s more difficult to stop.”
Scott Solombrino, CEO of Dav El Chauffeured Transportation Network and an NLA board member, said the decision marks a strong beginning to the eventual end of Avis inroads into the chauffeured transportation market.
“I think it starts to show that the regulators are now paying attention to operators trying to skirt the regulations and operate illegally,” Solombrino said. “This gives us huge credibility with other regulators, and gives us an example that says these people are breaking the rules and the laws.
“In short order, this program will no longer be viable for Avis.”
Solombrino said this decision is a “very positive step in a long process.” “I’m very excited about it. People are finally listening to us.”
The next fronts in the Avis battle will center on the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission. Solombrino predicted that the NY TLC’s standards will set the benchmark for other municipal regulators nationwide.
During a recent Limousine Associations of New Jersey meeting, TLC Commissioner Matt Daus appeared favorably receptive to the industry’s argument that Avis operates outside of the rules, Solombrino said. “Matt Daus gave us hope that they would take a hard, aggressive look at this.”
As to Avis still promoting personal chauffeurs, Solombrino said the correct concept of a personal chauffeur is essentially “your housekeeper chauffeuring you to work and then going back to clean your house” — as a hired employee.
A rented Avis chauffeur still would need to be subject to the same regulations as any other chauffeur, he said.
“Long term, we are going to win this. This will come out favorable to us.”
Source: Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine