eNews Exclusive: Susy Paris is widely known throughout the luxury transportation community, but few know how she got to be where she is today.
Once again, the staff at LCT has undergone the difficult task of determining the largest luxury transportation operators in North America. The term largest refers specifically to the fleet size of each operator, and the ranking is based solely on the number of vehicles. A company's overall revenue was not a factor when compiling this list.
The Methodology We determined that in order to establish a more clear definition of luxury-chauffeured transportation, we had to establish some guidelines. For the purpose of this listing we are including both leased and owned vehicles. We are including all sedans, stretches, vans, buses and SUVs in the overall tabulation. In the event that two or more operators have the same number of vehicles in their fleets, the number of stretches in the particular fleets will become the tiebreaker.
The Process Surveys were sent to subscribers by mail and fax in mid-April. Once the completed surveys were returned, the LCT staff then compiled the information. As you will see in the following pages, we broke down each company's fleet and staff to clearly determine its composition. In order to ensure accuracy, all submitted surveys required operators to authorize the LCT staff to contact their insurers to verify VIN numbers and fleet sizes. In addition, the fleets of randomly selected companies were cross-checked with state and local regulatory agencies (PUC, DOT, etc).
#1 Carey New York
The largest fleet in the country happens to be based in the city that has gone through the most change from last year. Ed Martinez, general manager for Carey New York, has been guiding the operation through the changing times. He now deals with a clientele that is more demanding and interested in different aspects of a chauffeured transportation service. "People are a little more price sensitive today and much more concerned with security and safety," Martinez explains. Operators have to implement changes to their security and safety procedures. Background checks and drug testing are almost becoming mandatory in order to meet the clients' new demands. Martinez has done this. "We add on our own polices above and beyond those that are required by the TLC (Taxi and Limousine Commission), Martinez explains. "For instance, our chauffeurs are also on a third-party drug-testing program which is random and in addition to the TLC's. If they fail, then that's it. There's no second chance. It's something that you (as an operator) can't gamble with." Carey New York's attention to safety goes beyond just more random drug testing. "We've tightened our requirements for drivers," Martinez says. "If a driver crosses the line in regards to safety, he will either be dismissed or enrolled in driver training class. We will not take the gamble. There's too much to risk today."
#2 Mears Transportation Group
Located in one of the country's most popular tourist spots, Mears Transportation is arguably one of the nation's most active companies when it comes to group and DMC work. This family-run company has been going strong in Orlando for more than 60 years. Paul Mears Sr. founded the company as City Cab Co. of Orlando. He put a "For Rent" sign in the back of his own car and traveling salesmen would pay him a daily fee for use of his vehicle. Later, Mears Sr. became one of the original Avis Rental Car franchisees in the state. According to company president Paul Mears Jr., Mears Transportation Group is a "hospitality" company providing transportation services, not a "transportation" company serving the hospitality industry. "What this means is that from the beginning we invested in hiring and training individuals with people skills," he explains. "We aim to provide the same level of service that a person would receive in a fine hotel." Paul Mears III is COO of Hello USA, a growing destination management company (DMC). In 1998 the DMC partnered with Mears Transportation, building upon both companies' resources in the travel industry. What started out as a rental car business in the late '30s, has grown to become one of this country's largest ground transportation companies, and it is still all in the family.
# 3 Empire International, Ltd.
Jim Magee Sr. has been with Empire International for 16 years and has seen a lot of changes during that time. As manager of chauffeur resources and development, Magee strives to maintain that customer service and proper procedures remain unchanged. "We cover the entire Tri-State area," Magee says. "So one particular challenge is bringing the drivers back in and reinforcing proper procedures. We do refresher courses for chauffeur training, especially in the first 90 days. Any drivers that have three months or less, we monitor them on a daily basis. If there is any kind of incident, such as being late or a customer complaint, we immediately call that driver in, sit down and discuss the incident and why it happened, and then take measures on how to handle it." Chauffeurs are monitored on a daily basis as far as their vehicle, their appearance, being on time, etc. "The most important thing we have is customer service," Magee says. "And if you don't implement that correctly, then the accounts you do have you won't have for too long."
#4 Bell Transportation
J.J. Bell started at the family business in October 1993; since then he has been working on various ways to make the company's large fleet run more efficiently. As director of fleet operations, the complexity of his task has been increased tenfold in the aftermath of 9-11. He has been working on ways to increase efficiency while decreasing costs. "One of the biggest things we're doing since 9-11 is that we're trying to reduce our fuel costs," Bell says. "We're installing a fuel-management system, which will have a card lock system. And every driver will have their card and they will have to swipe to fuel up. We'll be able to run reports on fuel consumption versus number of hours booked and see how efficient our drivers are." Another way that Bell is trying to reduce fuel consumption is by reducing vehicle idle time. "After tracking fuel mileage, we found out that during Oct-April we're getting between 15-16 mpg. But during May - Sept., we're getting about nine mpg," Bell says. "Of course it's because the drivers are trying to stay cool and are idling the cars. So, one thing we've decided to do is that at one of our busiest places, the airport, we're going to put a trolley and park it at the airport's staging area, and we're retrofitting it so it will have an external engine that's made just for the air conditioning. We'll leave that out there during the day so that the drivers can relax and enjoy the air conditioning, listen to music and wait for their number to be called so they can get out and get to the client. So, by not having vehicles idling as much, the benefits will be huge on the maintenance end also."
#5 Carey Chicago
As the general manager of Carey Chicago, Sal Milazzo has quite a task overseeing the Windy City's largest carrier. Shared-Ride is something that many feel is unique to Chicago. However, Milazzo doesn't think so. "A lot of companies used shared ride and don't realize that they are," he says. "They have a special rate to a hotel and riders ride together. We take it to a greater degree and service customers from their home on a shared ride basis." According to Milazzo, it can be seen as a natural benefit for companies looking to cut their travel expenses. "If two people from the same neighborhood are going to the airport at approximately the same time, we'll pick each one up and take them to the airport together. They share the cost of the ride to the airport," he explains. "A lot of companies like it because their costs are cut in half. Instead of paying for two private vehicles, they just pay for one. It works with multiple companies as well, because both companies end up sharing the cost of the vehicle." When it comes to marketing his business, Milazzo says it's all about service. "I believe service is your best marketing tool," he says. "I set high standards for service here in Chicago. If you provide a high level of service then the customers will come. I like using the expression: Experience minus expectations equals value. If your experience is greater than your expectations then there's value at the end."
#6 Dav El New York
As everyone knows, the effects of Sept. 11 on this industry were something no operator had ever planned for. Operators experienced a time when the phones stopped ringing and jobs stopped happening. Everyone from dispatchers to drivers wondered if they were going to have a job tomorrow. As the director of North American Operations for Dav El, it was John Lane's responsibility to reassure the confidence of the employees in the company. Lane did this by getting on a plane and flying out to all of the Dav El offices across the country. "I had to find ways to keep employees motivated," Lane says. "We met with the various office staffs and reassured them that we were in a good position financially." Lane also had to prepare lists of those employees who would temporarily be laid off. The company laid off about 400 employees across the country. "We gradually brought staff back city by city," Lane explains. "And actually 98 percent of those people were back in the office or back on the road by mid December." Lane and Dav El had to take many creative steps in order to position the company to ride out the recession. According to Lane, one of the most important tasks was letting the staff know that they were important to the company and that this tough time was only going to be temporary.
#7 BostonCoach, New York
Ruben Cotto's day is never predictable. As the AM Operations Supervisor for BostonCoach, N.Y., Cotto oversees the AM fleet operations staff, monitors all the rides and ensures that there is the correct staffing of drivers for the day. "I like that every day is different," Cotto says. "There are always new and different challenges than the day before." One of Cotto's biggest challenges is staying on top of all the variables in this business. "Weather, traffic, etc., - these are factors that we could encounter that might make it difficult for us to pick up our customers and get them to their destinations on time. And then we have to make sure to manage our resources well so that we can ensure that those variables don't get in the way." A BostonCoach employee for seven years, Cotto appreciates the systems and technology that the company has in place to provide staff with information. "But in my prior experience, I know that I have to stay one step ahead at all times," he says. "And I am always ready for the unexpected."
#8 A-1 Limousine Inc.
Dispatch has been described as "doing exactly the same job but different every day." Mike Paranich can attest to that description - he's into his tenth year at A-1 Limousine. "You really don't know what to expect even though you're doing the same job," Paranich says. He works the 12:00 noon to midnight shift as the night shift supervisor, and he knows well the demands of dispatch. "Everyone is flexible," he says of the four dispatchers he supervises. "I have a good crew." Over the course of a normal day, approximately 60 trips are routed through A-1's dispatch department. "We do everything in dispatch - on-the-spot dispatch, on-the-fly dispatch, and of course, tracking flights." Paranich and his staff constantly monitor traffic problems and give their drivers a "heads up" on everything from tunnel and bridge closures to accidents and brush fires. "The more efficient the driver's time is, the more efficient our time is, and therefore, the more work we can pick up," he says. "Overall, it's better for everybody."
#9 BostonCoach, Boston
Susan Sullivan manages a team of reservation agents in BostonCoach's Boston and Philadelphia call centers who process all of the company's non-voice reservations. "We receive reservations from all the major GDS (Sabre, Apollo and WorldSpan) through our Web site, by e-mail and from our affiliates through our affiliate Internet reservation system," Sullivan says. A seven-year BostonCoach employee, Sullivan also manages a specialized team of agents who handle calls from travel agent customers and helps to educate them regarding automation. "I also travel around the country training travel agents and assist them in installing our booking script, AutoRez." In a constantly-changing travel industry, keeping pace with the changes is practically a full-time job in and of itself. "I have a great relationship with our travel agent customers and our vendors and meet with them regularly," Sullivan says. "I also read all the travel and trade publications which helps me to stay on top of trends within the industry."
#10 Connecticut Limousine, LLC
As a high school graduate looking for his first full-time job, Ronnie Kezelevich got a job as a cleaner for Connecticut Limousine. He soon graduated to a coach mechanic position, then coach supervisor, and, after 16 years with the company and a change in ownership, Kezelevich maintains his current title of fleet maintenance manager. Kezelevich is responsible for maintaining Connecticut's extensive fleet of vehicles, overseeing vehicle cleaning along with building maintenance. All vehicle maintenance and upkeep is done in-house, and Kezelevich uses a monthly maintenance system that tracks vehicle mileage to determine a preventive maintenance schedule. He also supervises eight mechanics and four cleaners to ensure that vehicles are constantly being serviced on time and always out on the road. "It's a great place to work," Kezelevich says. "The owners are fantastic. Every day brings a different challenge and there's always something new."
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