GCLA Considers Pursuing Law Banning Avis WeDriveU

Posted on October 21, 2009 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

SAN FRANCISCO — The Greater California Livery Association may up the ante in the chauffeured transportation industry’s battle against Avis WeDriveU by introducing legislation into the California State Assembly in January that would prohibit the rental car agency’s chauffeured business model outright.

The proposed measure was discussed last week at a monthly meeting of the GCLA near the San Francisco International Airport. The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates chauffeured transportation, last month declined to categorize Avis WeDriveU as a limousine company. Under the Avis model, a customer rents a vehicle from Avis while contracting for a chauffeur from another company to drive the rented vehicle. Avis thereby avoids the costly regulations, licenses, inspections, and fees that govern luxury limousine operators, putting them at an unfair advantage.

Officials from the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) had asked the CPUC to rule whether Avis WeDriveU qualifies as a chauffeured transportation operator, with input from the GCLA pointing out that Avis WeDriveU has been found to violate regulations in Atlanta, Houston, Miami-Dade, and at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said GCLA President Alan Shanedling. The CPUC, however, reasoned that Avis and WeDrive U are two separate companies and do not constitute a limousine company, Shanedling said.

“We disagree with that,” he said. “Come January, we will try to find a sponsor to introduce it into the 2010 California Legislature.” Shanedling pointed out that Avis advertises itself in a way to compete directly with the limousine industry and appeal to its clients.

In other CPUC matters, the GCLA continues its push for stronger and better enforcement against illegal, or gypsy, operators who also avoid regulations, licenses, inspections, and fees, which means they can charge less and undercut the legitimate operators in California.

“We’re having very serious discussions with the PUC on enforcement and lack thereof, and how we can toughen the rules and regulations,” Shanedling said.

For example, the GCLA would like the PUC to be able to impound illegally operated livery vehicles at any location in the state, instead of just at airports and the U.S.-Mexican border as allowed now. Another change the GCLA seeks is to force illegal operators to pay impound fees on their vehicles if they violate a PUC code or a misdemeanor law. Now, an illegal operator must be convicted of a felony before he has to pay impound fees, which means, absent a conviction, the PUC or airports must pay the fees. Shanedling said such tougher measures also would have to be addressed through legislation.

To boost enforcement, the GCLA is urging the PUC to assign more officers to the larger airports statewide, such as SFO. The PUC has seen success with its two enforcement officers assigned to Los Angeles International Airport, who are able to conduct stings against gypsy operators. “We are working as much as possible with PUC to put some teeth into enforcement,” Shanedling said. The eventual goal is to get two permanent PUC officers stationed at SFO, the next busiest airport behind LAX, and then at Oakland, San Diego, Sacramento, and Orange County airports.

GCLA lobbyists Gregg Cook and Rob Grossglauser told operators the GCLA legislative agenda for 2010 is still under development. “[CPUC head] Rich Clark has asked for a meeting when we draft language to make a final determination” of any legislative points, Cook wrote in an e-mail. “Before we introduce legislation, we'll want to test the waters for potential support and opposition. There are a lot of folks who care about what we do with the Public Utilities Code; among them, buses, local government, airports, etc. We informed [the] membership in San Francisco of what we were considering, committing to nothing specifically. It's premature to commit to specific legislation until we've accomplished the tasks mentioned above.”

Source: Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine

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