Philly Operators Put Avis WeDriveU On The Skids

Posted on February 10, 2010 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

The Philadelphia Regional Limousine Association anticipates a parking authority vote Feb. 22 to prohibit the WeDriveU chauffeured model within city limits.

PHILADELPHIA — City authorities appear on course to make sure a rental car agency business model that has been undercutting chauffeured transportation operators within city limits and nationwide follows the same rules as everyone else.

If the executive board of the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) votes to deny applications from Avis WeDriveU on Feb. 22, as expected, then Philadelphia will join a growing list of cities and regions nationwide that are rolling back the Avis chauffeured model.

A breakthrough occurred Thursday when Vince Fenerty, the PPA’s executive director, said during a PPA Taxicab and Limousine Division committee meeting: "This type of service clearly violates the regulations we have in place and my recommendation to the PPA Executive Board is to deny this or any further application from these companies."

Fenerty’s public position came in response to comments from Philadelphia Regional Limousine Association president Philip Jagiela and two other city operators, Tony Viscusi of Global Limousine and Roman Barkan of Concord Limousine. Area operators and taxicab drivers applauded the executive director’s conclusion.

Other cities, regions, and agencies that have rolled back the Avis WeDriveU model since 2008 include: Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami/Dade County, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and most recently, the entire of state of New Jersey whose legislature passed a bill defining Avis WeDriveU as chauffeured transportation that was signed by then-Gov. Jon Corzine. The bill had been strongly pushed by the Limousine Associations of New Jersey, and with its passage, now serves as a template for other states and cities nationwide.

The Avis WeDriveU chauffeured service essentially avoids the licensing and regulation of conventional chauffeured transportation companies by splitting its vehicle and chauffeured services into two separate companies and requiring clients to then contract separately with each. This allows Avis WeDriveU to shuck the same safety standards as limousine operators while lowballing its prices because it saves on the licensing and regulatory costs.

The fight against Avis has been a front-burner issue for at least two years for the National Limousine Association and a host of other state and regional industry associations trying to protect the livelihoods of operators and ensure a fair and level regulatory playing field.

PRLA President Philip Jagiela said the executive director’s statement and committee recommendation makes a victory over Avis WeDrive U a foregone conclusion.

“When you put it all together, it is chauffeured transportation,” Jagiela said of the Avis business model. “It falls under the regulation of PPA.” He added that Avis should know better, since it owns a 45% stake in Carey International, one of the largest chauffeured transportation companies in the U.S. “They know the regulatory.process by owning Carey limousines,” Jagiela said.

While the PPA position applies to chauffeured transportation within Philadelphia City limits, including the airport, Avis WeDriveU can still legally operate in Pennsylvania counties that border Philadelphia. That’s why the PRLA supports an eventual statewide solution to the Avis WeDriveU problem.

The PPA’s position could help set the stage for SB759, a PRLA-supported bill that would remove the regulation formation and implementation process of chauffeured transportation from the PPA and give it to the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission. The PRLA would prefer such a transfer of authority to the PUC since that agency could simplify regulations governing chauffeured transportation and apply them fairly across the state. Passage of the bill also could pave the way for a statewide prohibition on the Avis WeDriveU model, similar to the one just passed in New Jersey.

“This sets a precedent for the state when the largest city says it won’t allow [WeDriveU],” Jagiela said.

A version of SB759 that includes a ban on Avis WeDriveU will be introduced into the House within the next two weeks, Jagiela said. The respective sponsors of the bills are Sen. Ted Erickson, R-Delaware County, and Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, D-Delaware County.

— Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine

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