Illegal Operator Busts Spotlight Industry Challenges In CA

Posted on July 20, 2011

LOS ANGELES — The California Public Utilities Commission recently published detailed lists of results from their passenger carrier enforcement strike team along with a quarterly report of all enforcement actions and fines against limousine, shuttle and bus companies.

CPUC Joins With Law Enforcement On Strike Team

CPUC Investigations Result In Enforcement Actions And Fines

The enforcement reports are encouraging to the members of the Greater California Livery Association, who have been working with the PUC for years to boost crackdowns on illegal gypsy limousine operators that undercut the market.

A state law passed as part of a limo bill last year has been a big help to enforcement, GCLA President Mark Stewart told LCT. Under the law, an impounded vehicle can only be retrieved by an owner if the owner gets a legitimate PUC license to operate a charter party carrier in California. That shuts down the practice of illegal operators paying a fine and being back on the road within a matter of hours, he said. “They [authorities] know if they impound an illegal operator’s vehicle, it will sit for some time until the operator gets PUC license.”

So far, the GCLA has seen more success at the Los Angeles International Airport than at other state airports. “I would like to see more enforcement at airports with illegals,” Stewart said. “If the airports are on a more aggressive side of enforcement, you would see more changes.” For example, the San Francisco International Airport still has a persistent problem with representatives of illegal operators making on-the-spot solicitations for chauffeured rides in the terminal areas, Stewart said.  

One Bay Area operator and GCLA board member, Gary Buffo, told LCT that he’s noticed more illegal operators on the road recently because legitimate operators are getting more business than they can handle, resulting in unmet demand being taken up by the gypsies.

“Illegals are filling the gaps for now,” said Buffo, president of Pure Luxury Transportation in Petaluma, Calif. “There is so much business. There are so many groups and so far overbooked. I’ve never seen it like this. We’re busy seven days a week. We’ll have 70 vehicles soon, and I could run 140 cars now but don’t want to because no one knows what’s happening with the economy.”

Illegal operators are quick to change their tactics and find ways to avoid authorities, Stewart warned. “They are trying to be more creative and get more casually dressed. Some are getting away from dark colored cars and coming in with other regular vehicles.”

Stewart and Buffo both stressed the need for more operators to join the GCLA as an antidote to illegal operator activity, and to promote awareness among legitimate chauffeured transportation companies.

“You are seeing far fewer [legitimate] companies being cited,” Stewart said. “Most are illegal or companies not in the association. At least when you are part of the association, you are more informed of industry and airports and matters applicable to their businesses, whereas illegals don’t get updated information.”

— Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine

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