Extreme Anti-Limo Actions Batter The Industry

Martin Romjue
Posted on March 8, 2019
The American stretch limousine, now the most harassed and hectored commercial vehicle on the road. (LCT photo courtesy of the former LA Custom Coach)

The American stretch limousine, now the most harassed and hectored commercial vehicle on the road. (LCT photo courtesy of the former LA Custom Coach)

How well would your business run if entire categories of fleet vehicles were banned and you were forbidden to send them to help affiliates across state lines?

I’d venture your operation would either be peeling out or going into a final skid.

Two recent regulatory duds in New York and Georgia, if they could be combined, would trigger such results. Luxury transportation operators in each state are trying to ward off those bad actions — one a proposal, the other a practice. They prove how this industry and business sectors across America must spend resources squashing absurd, harmful, and malign regulations that hurt the public, but put a halo over do-gooder pols.

Ban Stretch Limousines?

As part of the state’s 2020 fiscal budget, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed banning all modified stretch limousines statewide in a sweeping package of safety rules. The measure stems from the Oct. 6, 2018 stretch limousine crash in Schoharie that killed 20 people, for which an exact cause has not been determined as of this writing.

Since the print version of this column was published, the Governor pulled back on his sweeping ban, but New York industry leaders say Cuomo and legislators are still batting around ideas to limit use of modified stretch limousines.

If ever enacted, such a ban would be one of the most extreme and stunning measures ever devised to supposedly solve a problem. Fortunately, representatives from three state trade groups, the Long Island Limousine Association, the Long Island Transportation Association, and the Limousine Bus Taxi Operators of Upstate New York, traveled to the State Capitol in Albany Jan. 30 to speak out and oppose the initial ban.

The leaders laid out the obvious: Banning all stretches would kill jobs, lower tax revenues, hurt businesses, and deprive the public of a safe and enjoyable form of transportation often used for proms, weddings, and leisure outings. The reps pointed out how airplanes still fly and school buses still roll after fatal crashes. “It would be like telling Trailways or Grey Line you can’t use buses anymore, or telling a pizzeria you can’t sell pizza,” one leader told a legislative panel.

Special Event Slowdowns?

The following weekend Atlanta operators worried about a lack of chauffeured vehicles to supply the demand from Super Bowl travelers. Georgia Public Safety Commissioner Col. Mark McDonough decreed no out-of-state luxury vehicles that are not insured and registered in Georgia would be allowed to cross state lines and help operators transport the blitz of corporate executives, NFL officials, celebrities, sponsors, and VIPs swooping in for the big game. That was projected to leave Atlanta operators about 300-400 vehicles short.

The Greater Atlanta Limousine Association, led by president and local operator Jeff Greene, himself a former police officer, tried in vain in the months ahead to get the needed vehicle permits and urge the commissioner to relent. A last ditch appeal to Gov. Brian Kemp went nowhere, as two days before one of the city’s most high profile hosted events, Kemp demurred and supported “the Colonel.”

The city of Atlanta had allowed out-of-state commercial vehicles to work the 1996 Olympics and the 2000 Super Bowl, so there was no valid reason to ban them this time. It was just plain old stubborn, misinformed bureaucratic posturing and pride. The Department of Public Safety could have taken any number of reasonable steps in the year leading up to the Super Bowl, such as permitting fleet vehicles from states that match or exceed the insurance, safety, and licensing rules in Georgia. But logic was not in the mix.

Greene told me afterward local operators tried their best to find statewide affiliates and rented vehicles, and scheduled fleets as efficiently as possible. But GALA will seek legislation to prevent a repeat of this spectacle.

Common Sense Meets Intolerance

Following the dramas in New York and Georgia, a school superintendent in Lakeland, N.J., mandated high school students cannot rent stretch limousines for the prom. He cited safety concerns, but the real admitted reason was an enforced lesson in equity: Because some students felt bad about not "affording" stretch limousines, the school system decided to take the earned consumer choice away from those who could.

These extreme measures reflect a wider trend in our political culture where political and regulatory elites with little or no business experience too often try to micro-manage sectors they either disdain or know nothing about. Small business owners, including limousine and bus operators, bring a deep practical knowledge of how rules work and which ones are fair. After all, they and their employees are immersed in the daily grind of working the roadways and serving the public 24/7. There’s nothing like having to deliver safe, quality transportation while meeting payroll and earning a heavily taxed living to breed sturdy common sense.

The California Example

A few weeks after the Super Bowl, I tagged along to the Greater California Livery Association's Legislative Day in Sacramento, where we visited with legislators and agency managers in the State Capitol. The GCLA's strategy could be applied well beyond the stately Capitol corridors of one of the least business friendly states in the Union.

Among the directives GCLA advised its members when visiting legislators and their staffs: Tell them about your industry, business, work, employees, and presence in their districts. Share the stories of real people doing good things, and why some rules work and others flop. Be clear, confident, and stick to the key points of what you seek. Respect your hosts’ time and positions. Don’t whine or complain. Remind them of consequences from apathy. Make public safety and competitive fair play top goals. Offer solutions.

In today’s hyper-charged and zealous political climate, such a genuine and forthright approach sounds counter-intuitive. But it could stand out and encourage more listening and educating all around. When you consider the alternatives, it’s the only approach that can succeed.

[This column was updated from the original print version that appears in the March 2019 issue of LCT Magazine].

Related Topics: Atlanta operators, California operators, Georgia operators, Greater Atlanta Limousine Association, Greater California Livery Association, industry politics, Jeff Greene, LBTOUNY, LCT editor, Legal Issues, legislation, lobbying, long island limousine association, Martin Romjue, New Jersey operators, New York operators, proms, regulatory enforcement, state regulations, student transportation

Martin Romjue Editor
Comments ( 1 )
  • Susan

     | about 2 years ago

    Martin, Thanks for joining us in Sacramento for our Day On The Hill. It definitely gave us an opportunity to put industry-wide concerns before those making the laws. In turn, it allowed our legislators to meet their local operators and hear how legislation has personally affected constituents who provide jobs and pay taxes in their district. Sincerely, Susan Lundquist, API Global Transportation, West Sacramento, CA

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