Operations

Riots Throw First Time Challenges To Charlotte Operators

Martin Romjue
Posted on November 8, 2016

This photo taken from the Bank of America Stadium in downtown Charlotte, N.C. shows two Rose Chauffeured Transportation motorcoaches next to protesters. The two buses were assigned to the Charlotte Police Department to ferry officers between the police station and the riot zone. “Anyone trying to topple over one of our buses would have had 100 cops ready to take care of that problem,” said general manager Tom Holden (photo from Rose Chauffeured Transportation)
This photo taken from the Bank of America Stadium in downtown Charlotte, N.C. shows two Rose Chauffeured Transportation motorcoaches next to protesters. The two buses were assigned to the Charlotte Police Department to ferry officers between the police station and the riot zone. “Anyone trying to topple over one of our buses would have had 100 cops ready to take care of that problem,” said general manager Tom Holden (photo from Rose Chauffeured Transportation)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As civil unrest has seeped from city to city in recent years following racially involved police shootings, limousine operators are learning in real time about a new calamity many thought they never would need to prepare for.

Even for operators who have handled conventions, Super Bowls, weather emergencies, concerts, and all types of special events, the volatility of urban unrest and paralysis requires its own approach. Operators in Charlotte experienced that the week of Sept. 19-25. For several nights, downtown convulsed into globally televised looting and rampages following the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.

This growing phenomenon of violent unrest stemming from a toxic mix of tense urban race relations, defiance of law enforcement, and social media flash mobs can happen in any city of any size at any time. In the case of Charlotte, many of the rioters swooped in from out of town.

Stay Put Or Get Out
Leading Charlotte chauffeured transportation companies had to quickly reroute and reschedule runs across the metro region as circumstances unfolded. Once recovered, the companies, like many Charlotte businesses, tallied up thousands of dollars in lost revenues and cancelled contracts and reservations. Fortunately, none of the companies contacted sustained any client or employee injuries or damaged vehicles.

Rose Chauffeured Transportation general manager Tom Holden (LCT file photo)
Rose Chauffeured Transportation general manager Tom Holden (LCT file photo)
“During the protests, it was total destruction,” said Tom Holden, the general manager of Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C. “You didn’t see much of what was happening on TV. Thank God, for our passengers, clients, and employees, we didn’t have anything major happen. I wish it upon nobody. It is destructive. It puts people out of business.”

One of Rose’s clients, the downtown Westin Hotel, was about three blocks from riot Ground Zero. It has served a contract for the last 10 years with the hotel, where it at times bases about 30 vehicles. The company immediately had to redirect inbound guests while arranging to whisk out those guests not choosing to stay in the hotel overnight.

“As we heard about the riots, we told dispatchers no cars can pick up or drop off within certain blocks of downtown circle,” Holden said. “Some passengers heading into the city were relocated to other hotels outside the area. The Westin went from 100% occupancy to 20% in a matter of hours. People who could get out of there took our cars, but the Westin made sure remaining guests were safe.”

Silver Fox Limos chauffeur Masood Khan stands with National Guard troops who were brought in to quell the riots in downtown Charlotte, N.C. Once the unrest calmed down, limousine services were able to get barricaded clients out of hotels and to their destinations, said Silver Fox owner James Weymann (photo from Silver Fox Limos)
Silver Fox Limos chauffeur Masood Khan stands with National Guard troops who were brought in to quell the riots in downtown Charlotte, N.C. Once the unrest calmed down, limousine services were able to get barricaded clients out of hotels and to their destinations, said Silver Fox owner James Weymann (photo from Silver Fox Limos)
As Holden and his team were assessing the situation at the Westin, operator James Weymann and staff at Silver Fox Limos were doing the same at the downtown Ritz-Carlton Hotel. “We looked at the dispatch screen for reservations going into the area,” Weymann said. “A big group at the Ritz was at the heart of the rioting where protesters were throwing rocks at the windows. We called the hotel staff who told us it was getting bad and the place was on lockdown. If we were bringing guests, they couldn’t let them in. We had to get them to different hotels outside Charlotte.”

Don’t Get Stuck
A major concern for any limo operation in such riot situations is to make sure its vehicles always can quickly move to an alternate route, and never get stuck in traffic or a driveway, Weymann said. Black luxury vehicles could become sitting targets because protesters likely suspect they’re carrying executives, celebrities, or VIPs, which would result in more media attention, he said.

Silver Fox Limos owner James Weymann (photo from Silver Fox Limos)
Silver Fox Limos owner James Weymann (photo from Silver Fox Limos)
Silver Fox, like the other companies, was having a busy week with its 45 fleet vehicles criss-crossing the metro region. “There were large [client] groups in the uptown area which made it quite a nightmare,” Weymann said. “We had a big group at the Ritz scheduled Friday, and they decided to all get flights out and canceled their meetings. In the mornings we could move people, but at night could not. Guests were safe in their rooms, with some getting moved to higher rooms on the eighth floor.”

Another major Charlotte chauffeured operation, CLT Express, fortunately lucked out that night, having just dropped off its last scheduled downtown client the night of Sept. 21 before the situation deteriorated around 9 p.m., said co-owner CEO Jeff Canady. For his company, a surge in demand came the following two mornings as clients and hotel guests downtown were leaving.

“The rest of our drop offs that night were outside of the city,” Canady said. “Typically we run until midnight with drop-offs downtown.”

CLT Express co-owner and CEO Jeff Canady sees well beyond the $20,000 in losses his company sustained, to a city and state missing out on valuable convention and professional sports events because of bad publicity. (photo from CLT Express)
CLT Express co-owner and CEO Jeff Canady sees well beyond the $20,000 in losses his company sustained, to a city and state missing out on valuable convention and professional sports events because of bad publicity. (photo from CLT Express)
CLT Express and other operations are plugged into 24/7 GPS-based fleet tracking, GPS routing and maps, and smartphone communications among its chauffeurs and dispatchers --- technology features that have evolved in the limousine industry during the last decade now proved invaluable.

“We could look at the grid and make sure none of our vehicles were in uptown for the night shift,” Canady said. “The mass exodus occurred Thursday morning and we needed extra cars for our clients. Many stayed in their hotel rooms, and in the early mornings, they got the hell out of dodge.”

How To Prepare
The three operators had plenty of advice for industry colleagues who run limo services in urban areas and could potentially face similar situations.

“You really can’t plan for something like this other than if it happens, follow up on what you have coming in and out and make sure you don’t put any people in harm’s way,” Canady said. “Communication between your team and chauffeurs in the field is important. If you see signs of trouble happening, pull the cars back.”

Weymann said he has newfound appreciation for 24/7 cable and local TV news, and the need to have a TV on at all times in dispatch centers and logistical parts of an operation. “Always keep up with news, and be aware of what’s going on in your city and outside of your city. We have CNN on all the time.”

Weymann also advises making sure to have cell phone numbers of all meetings, events, and convention coordinators of client groups you are working with. Most important, he applies the U.S. Secret Service rule of, “Make sure your chauffeurs understand never to get passengers into a situation you can’t get out of.” For example, if you’re on a two-lane road or street during civil unrest and come upon bumper-to-bumper traffic, immediately do a U-turn and go the other way to find another route instead of waiting to see what’s going on.

Holden said the riots underscore the need for chauffeured operations to hold frequent simulated emergency drills for civil unrest, disasters, and accidents. As a client of Lancer Insurance, Rose periodically goes through training modules where the insurer places mock phone calls to company employees portraying different roles and demands that happen in a disaster.

“Have a disaster plan in a binder with all the important contacts, what to say, and not to say,” Holden said. “You have to have calm people on phones all the time. Don’t divulge any direct information that has a negative effect on your city or business, and avoid slandering any people or group.”

Short-, Long-Term Damages
As to lost business revenue, Holden estimates Rose was set back about $10,000 worth, mostly group and motorcoach runs. Weymann tallied about $2,000 in lost sedan rides along with some downscaled group transportation. Canady calculated $20,000 in losses for three canceled conventions and 10 canceled motorcoach reservations.

For these operators, the greater losses are likely to mount. Canady says 2016 has been the worst year for his business and for Charlotte since 9/11. The city has suffered pulled business and bad publicity from the controversy surrounding a state bill, HB2, also known as the “transgender bathroom bill,” requiring public restroom users to go to the restroom matching their gender at birth.

CLT Express was the official provider of the NBA All-Star Game that got moved in the wake of opposition to the controversial bill, and the ACC Football Championship Game was moved to Orlando. North Carolina also became the target of LGBT-driven calls for boycotts. Then, the riots erupted.

“It seems like it won’t stop,” Canady said. “What’s next? This week is slow and I have to attribute that to what happened two weeks ago. It gave Charlotte a real perception of thugs running the town. The mayor did not do a good job of taking control of the situation until it was too late. The damage had been done.”

Related Topics: customer service, emergency preparedness, fleet management, fleet tracking, How To, Jeff Canady, law enforcement, North Carolina operators

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