TRENTON, N.J. — A pivotal limo bill that restricts vehicle license renewal fees, regulates Avis DriveU, and empowers enforcement against illegal operators was approved by the New Jersey State Senate Monday and very likely will set the high bar for similar legislative measures in other states once it signed by the New Jersey governor.
Known as the Limo Bill, A3634/S2716 (Wisniewski/Madden), the measure passed on a 34-2 vote. Before the votes were cast, Limousine Associations of New Jersey executive director Barry Lefkowitz capped his extensive lobbying efforts by appearing on the floor of the Senate during its session to answer questions from lawmakers.
The bill, also approved in the state General Assembly in June, now must go before Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine before he officially steps down Jan. 19 after losing the November gubernatorial election to Republican Chris Christie. The bill takes effect 60 days after signing.
Lefkowitz characterized the bill as one of the most consequential pieces of legislation for the chauffeured transportation industry to be passed by the state legislature, especially since it effectively ends the privileged status of Avis’ WeDriveU chauffeured service. In the last few years, Avis WeDriveU has become a bane of the industry since its business model undercuts legitimate operators, and is now the target of much of the industry’s lobbying and organizational muscle.
“This is the pacesetter for entire country on Avis,” Lefkowitz told LCT. “This deals with the template. It doesn’t matter if it’s Avis, AAA, or anyone, but if they try to use this business model, then this legislation puts it under the jurisdiction of the Motor Vehicle Commission” — the same agency that regulates limousine operators.
Avis WeDriveU has skirted state and local chauffeured transportation regulations nationwide by separating its auto rental and chauffeur rental services into separate companies.
One of the architects of LANJ’s grassroots efforts to get the bill passed was Jason Sharenow, chief operating officer at Broadway-Elite Chauffeured Transportation of E. Hanover, N.J., a LANJ board member, and a finalist for a 2010 LCT Operator Of The Year Award.
“It’s like winning the triple crown in my estimation,” said Sharenow of the legislative victory. “It’s good for the operators like myself that run legitimate businesses and good for the riding public.”
The legislation will get illegal 22-passenger Hummer stretches off the road that some New Jersey operators register in other states and operate against New Jersey law, Sharenow said. New Jersey forbids stretch limousines larger than 14 passengers.
The legislation also will serve as a guide for the National Limousine Association and other industry associations who want to pursue similar legislation that would classify Avis WeDriveU as chauffeured transportation, Sharenow said.
Other key provisions of the bill include:
• A maximum limit of $10 per vehicle that can be charged by local governments for annual vehicle license renewal fees. This prevents the ridiculous situation of operators having to pay varying and excessive fees in all of the jurisdictions in which they operate vehicles. Operators pay a one-time $50 fee when registering a chauffeured transportation company fleet for the first time.
• Increased authority for law enforcement officers to stop illegal operators by giving them the probable cause needed to go onto the property of suspected companies. Before, state police could only go onto the property of a suspected illegal operation if it had a bus. “We can file complaints now,” Lefkowitz said.
• Allow limousines built up to a capacity of 14 passengers and a driver to carry the maximum number of passengers recommended by a manufacturer. The old rule limited the total number of people in a stretch limousine to 10. This put New Jersey limousine operators at a disadvantage compared to operators in the neighboring states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware who could legally carry more passengers in their stretch limousines.
As sweeping as this measure is, the real linchpin of legislative success still lies ahead with a proposal to abolish the 7% service sales tax on all intrastate runs by chauffeured transportation operators. Lefkowitz reported that the proposal received a significant boost this week when several key legislators committed themselves to bringing a bill to the floors of the New Jersey State Senate and General Assembly for votes. Those legislators include Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlow, and Sen. Tom Keane Jr., Senate minority leader, who told Lefkowitz the Republican caucus will support repeal of the service sales tax. If the legislature moves the bill, it could be passed by this spring, he said.
Source: Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine