Limo Licenses In Denver Prove To Be Confusing

Posted on September 9, 2010 by - Also by this author - About the author

FROM THE DENVER BUSINESS JOURNAL: Denver area operator Andy Poppenberg lost a critical share of his business after one of his vehicles was wrongly impounded last year at Denver International Airport. City officials are trying to sort through the confusion and controversy that has ensued.

DENVER -- The city's limousine industry is in an uproar over a little-known Denver taxi and limousine license they say duplicates state requirements and may do little more than generate revenue for the city.

The license, called a Herdic license, has been on Denver’s books since at least 1950. It’s a requirement for all drivers of taxis and limousines who drive passengers on city streets — including at Denver International Airport, with exceptions for hotel courtesy vans and buses, according to the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses.

Penny May, director of Denver’s excise and licenses department, said it’s “not clear what prompted this ordinance to be adopted in 1950, but it’s still on the books, so it’s required.”

To get Denver’s Herdic license, drivers must pay a one-time $50 application fee or a $25 annual renewal fee, plus submit evidence they’ve paid a minimum of $48 per year for the city’s “head tax.” Other requirements include a background check, at a cost of $6.85, and drivers also must pass an exam testing their knowledge of taxi and limousine laws and Denver’s streets, public places and institutions, according to May’s department.

Confusion about requirements

But veterans of the metro area’s limousine companies say the common belief in the industry for years has been that drivers didn’t need the city’s Herdic license if they worked for companies whose cars are stored outside Denver.

And for at least 12 years, the Herdic license requirement hasn’t been enforced at DIA if drivers could show they picked up and dropped off passengers outside city boundaries, according to the Denver police sergeant who oversees ground transportation enforcement at DIA.

But a single incident at the airport in November 2009 — between a Denver police officer, a driver for DENVER LINCOLN LIMOUSINE INC., which has its company garage in Aurora, and company President Andy Poppenberg — has Denver’s limousine industry asking who needs a Herdic license, and why the license exists in the first place.

“Who needs it? Who doesn’t need it and what is it for?” said Shane Stickel, president and CEO of Denver-based Presidential Worldwide Transportation Inc. and vice president of the Colorado Limousine Association. “It’s been debated for the last eight to 10 months within the industry. We already have a laundry list of requirements for the PUC [Colorado Public Utilities Commission] and DIA.”

The PUC oversees the state’s limousine and taxi industry. Colorado doesn’t have a chauffeur’s license requirement, but since 2007, the PUC has required companies to have all drivers go through a background check within 10 days of being hired, said PUC spokesman Terry Bote.

DIA also requires drivers of all shuttles, buses, taxis and limousines to undergo its own background check before they’re given a two-year badge allowing access to the airport’s commercial vehicle parking lot and passenger pickup areas, said airport spokesman Jeff Green.

DIA is waiting for a written opinion from the city attorney’s office to clarify the issue of who needs a Herdic license at the airport, said Denver Police Sgt. Tim Van Portfliet, who’s in charge of ground transportation enforcement at DIA and has been stationed at the airport for 12 years.

Until then, police officers will continue to exempt taxi and limousine drivers who drive in Denver only when they go to DIA, Van Portfliet said.

Owner has had setbacks

And while the industry and city officials debate the Herdic license, Poppenberg, a 25-year veteran of Denver’s limousine industry, has been trying to keep his business afloat.

When his driver was cited at DIA for lacking a Herdic license in November 2009, the passenger in Denver Lincoln’s car was left standing on the curb. The charges were dropped in January 2010, but because of the incident, the company lost one of its top clients and has laid off 10 drivers, Poppenberg said.

“I’ve gone from 250 or 300 trips a month to trying to get 100 trips a month; that’s three trips per day,” said Poppenberg, who added he now employs four drivers, including himself.

On Aug. 6, Denver City Councilman Michael Hancock wrote a letter to DENVER LINCOLN LIMOUSINE INC.'s client, Empire CLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services of New Jersey, offering his “sincere regret for the unfortunate incident involving your associate several months ago at Denver International Airport.”

Hancock, who didn’t return calls seeking comment, wrote that the city is “working diligently to address the circumstances that led to the confusion of our transportation policy.”

Hancock’s letter praised Poppenberg and Denver Lincoln, and asked Empire to “reconsider your decision [to] not use this valuable employer in our City.”

Poppenberg said he hasn’t heard from Empire since Hancock sent the letter, and is trying to improve his business by offering gift cards to charities and nonprofit associations.

“In the 23 years that I’ve been in business [as owner of Denver Lincoln Limousine], I’ve never had to lay off 10 drivers in six months — good people who helped me build my company,” Poppenberg said.

Source: Denver Business Journal

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