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LOS ANGELES — Since five women died in a burning stretch limousine near San Francisco on May 4, the limousine industry has been experiencing one of its most painful periods ever. News of what is now universally known as the big limo fire ricocheted worldwide and brought unprecedented media and regulatory scrutiny to a luxury service industry that thrives on discreet professionalism.
How the industry’s image, along with potential business for stretch limousines, will fare after this episode depends in some part on how limousine operators handle the aftermath.
So it is out of concern that I regrettably must share this anecdote:
While driving north along the 110 Harbor Freeway toward downtown Los Angeles Saturday morning, I saw a stretch limousine that did not deserve to be on the road. The older model, white Cadillac Escalade super-stretch was rolling along with a wobbly left rear wheel and a part dangling from the rear portion of the undercarriage. Frankly, it looked like hell.
I did a double take. Seated next to me, my wife, who is not part of this industry, noticed the wheel and immediately pointed it out. The tragedy aside, a limousine like this is never safe or professional. Considering the deadly limo fire, it’s doubly stupid and irresponsible. What was that operator thinking? The stretch bore the name of the Los Angeles area-based limousine company along with its TCP number. It appeared to be legal, although illegal operators have been known to use fake TCP numbers. The company is not listed as a member of the National Limousine Association.
I’ll do the operator a big favor and not publicize the name of the company — LCT is not about playing gotcha or embarrassing members of the industry. We want to be a forum for solutions. And I’ll be generous and allow the slight possibility that the chauffeur was driving the stretch to a repair shop. I doubt it. This claptrap of a limousine should be an urgent wake-up call and a dire warning:
The world is watching the limousine industry and its vehicles. Saturation media coverage of a tragedy like this invariably scares the public. Operators cannot afford to be running vehicles with any defects, period. Anyone out and about in Los Angeles Saturday who saw that stretch limousine could wonder about the safety of stretches. It’s bad public relations, even worse timing, and rock-bottom conduct that political opportunists would gladly exploit.
An operator with an inferior fleet vehicle should do one of three things: Fix it, replace it, or keep it off the road. Better to farm out a job to a local affiliate with a decent vehicle than do the run with a substandard vehicle.
And if anyone knows of a fellow operator using a rickety vehicle, admonish them to stop. So far, the cause of last week’s horrible accident could end up being a one-off combination of circumstances, depending on the outcome of the investigation. A second catastrophic accident would be treated as a trend.
— Martin Romjue, LCT editor
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