Regulations

Limo CEOs Exhort Operators To Go On Offensive With TNCs

Martin Romjue
Posted on September 24, 2014
From (L to R): GCLA President Rich Azzolino, Music Express CEO Cheryl Berkman, Commonwealth Worldwide CEO and NLA leader Dawson Rutter, and GCLA lobbyist Gregg Cook inform attendees at the annual GCLA Expo about the critical challenges posed by TNCs. Photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, at Promenade and Gardens, Costa Mesa, Calif. (Kevin Haegele/LCT)
From (L to R): GCLA President Rich Azzolino, Music Express CEO Cheryl Berkman, Commonwealth Worldwide CEO and NLA leader Dawson Rutter, and GCLA lobbyist Gregg Cook inform attendees at the annual GCLA Expo about the critical challenges posed by TNCs. Photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, at Promenade and Gardens, Costa Mesa, Calif. (Kevin Haegele/LCT)

From (L to R): GCLA President Rich Azzolino, Music Express CEO Cheryl Berkman, Commonwealth Worldwide CEO and NLA leader Dawson Rutter, and GCLA lobbyist Gregg Cook inform attendees at the annual GCLA Expo about the critical challenges posed by TNCs. Photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, at Promenade and Gardens, Costa Mesa, Calif. (Kevin Haegele/LCT)

From (L to R): GCLA President Rich Azzolino, Music Express CEO Cheryl Berkman, Commonwealth Worldwide CEO and NLA leader Dawson Rutter, and GCLA lobbyist Gregg Cook inform attendees at the annual GCLA Expo about the critical challenges posed by TNCs. Photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, at Promenade and Gardens, Costa Mesa, Calif. (Kevin Haegele/LCT)
From (L to R): GCLA President Rich Azzolino, Music Express CEO Cheryl Berkman, Commonwealth Worldwide CEO and NLA leader Dawson Rutter, and GCLA lobbyist Gregg Cook inform attendees at the annual GCLA Expo about the critical challenges posed by TNCs. Photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, at Promenade and Gardens, Costa Mesa, Calif. (Kevin Haegele/LCT)

COSTA MESA, Calif. — The limousine industry on Sept. 23 heard its boldest and most blunt rallying call to date against Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) from two longtime CEOs pledged to what one called “a long, rocky road” to regulatory fairness.

Cheryl Berkman, CEO of Los Angeles-based Music Express, and Dawson Rutter, CEO of Boston-based Commonwealth Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation, lit up the annual Greater California Livery Association annual Expo Tuesday evening with some straight tough talk on TNCs. Both run some of the largest chauffeured transportation networks in the nation, and have worked in their respective companies since the 1980s. Berkman is the daughter of the late “NLA founding father” Harold Berkman, who started Music Express in 1973, while Rutter began his limo service in the early 1980s after working as a cab driver. Rutter also serves as a board director of the National Limousine Association, and Berkman is a former one.

“The TNCs have hit this industry with such force that it has knocked us [around],” Berkman told attendees, which included operators from across California and a handful from the East Coast and Canada. “This is a killer in our industry. . . You need to sit down and buckle up because we are in for a long haul.”

Rutter cited sobering statistics that show the growth of TNC vehicles. New York City, where Commonwealth also has operations, now has 9,600 Uber-affiliate vehicles, up from only 500 this time last year. About 350 are being added per week. In San Francisco, 65% of the taxicab industry has been idled due to the growth of TNCs, which are not regulated, licensed and vetted to the same extent as limousine and taxicabs. The loss of taxicab service has serious consequences for people who are poor, elderly and/or disabled, as their access to ground transportation diminishes.

Much of the success of Uber and TNCs stems from outright deceptions, Rutter said. “The TNC issue is one of information. We need to get more information out to the public. When people realize it’s a public safety issue, they will realize they are in danger when they get into those vehicles,” he added, citing multiple cases of TNC accidents, criminal drivers, price gouging, and legal violations.

“The TNCs are not truthful with the drivers or the public about what’s going on,” said Ruttter, citing extensive disclaimers from Uber that absolves them of many of the responsibilities and safety liabilities common to other forms of ground transportation. “Uber is manipulating the people.” He pointed out how when Uber was challenged about their all-exclusive disclaimer, the company quickly changed its wording to assume a shred of responsibility.

Berkman and Rutter spoke in front of an outdoor evening garden party in Costa Mesa seated in plush white lounge chairs on a stage, creating an atmosphere that was part talk-show, part tent-revival. Hosted by GCLA President Rich Azzolino, the TNC panel drew an unusually large crowd that stayed seated and attentive longer than usual for such open-air networking events, and elicited several engaging questions and comments afterward. The Expo drew more than 310 registered attendees overall.

Berkman and Rutter called on all limousine operators of all fleet sizes nationwide to become informed, engaged and active in the overall national campaign for equal regulations between TNCs and limousine operations. They offered the following practical approaches and options:

  • Publicize and distribute a recent NLA Position Paper on TNCs. The NLA has refined an official industry position on TNCs that clearly describes the problem, explains legal and insurance questions, and supports solutions for regulatory parity. The CEOs repeatedly advised operators to get a copy, read it, write a cover letter introducing and advocating on behalf of the NLA position, and then send it to legislative representatives and politicians at the state and local levels, where most of the TNC remedies can occur. Copies of the Position Paper were handed out during the Expo.
  • Support and show up at lobbying events, including NLA’s Day On The Hill, the GCLA Day In Sacramento, similar state association events across the country, and any state and local regulatory hearings regarding TNCs, such as a Public Participation Hearing being held Oct. 23 by the California Public Utilities Commission in Torrance, Calif. CPUC officials plan to hear testimony on real-world experience with TNCs in eight areas of business practices including accessibility, driver and vehicle standards and reliability, airport access, safety, insurance and surge pricing. The hearing will be held at the Torrance Civic Center on Thursday, Oct. 23 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The Administrative Law Judge and Commissioner can learn from operators' experiences as a step toward restoring fairness in the marketplace.
  • Join the efforts of the new action group Advocates for Fairness in Transportation (AFT) formed by Berkman, Empire CLS CEO David Seelinger, and Integrated Transportation Services (ITS) President Jonna Sabroff. The group, positioned as an ad-hoc complementary effort to the NLA and state associations, already has succeeded in writing a letter to the United Airlines CEO raising awareness about that airline’s promotional partnership with Uber, and writing multiple letters to Los Angeles-area hotel owners about how they should not be tolerating illegal TNC vehicles lurking at front entrances to score clients that normally would be going into chauffeured vehicles. Berkman pointed out that it is legitimate limousine operators who bring many of the clients to airlines and luxury hotels in the first place.
  • Document and circulate anecdotes, stories and incidents involving bad TNC behavior, such as accidents, price surges, and drivers who are not properly background checked. Sharing such information, whether sent through official channels or social media, humanizes and dramatizes the TNC issue. Real-life examples help explain the TNC issue more powerfully to regulators and politicians, some of whom are under the sway of young techie staffers who are Uber enthusiasts.

Berkman and Rutter pointed out that much of the challenge for the limousine industry lies in education and advocacy: Once the riding public and TNC political supporters become more informed about the risks and the facts, they will be more receptive to common sense regulations that apply equally. Operators need to be hammering the same talking points over and over again.

GCLA lobbyist Gregg Cook of Government Affairs Consulting in Sacramento, Calif., told Expo attendees there are more aggressive legislative efforts to come in 2015 regarding TNC regulations.
GCLA lobbyist Gregg Cook of Government Affairs Consulting in Sacramento, Calif., told Expo attendees there are more aggressive legislative efforts to come in 2015 regarding TNC regulations.

That has succeeded to a certain extent in California, where Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed AB 2293 toughening insurance requirements on TNCs, explained GCLA lobbyist Gregg Cook, who joined Berkman and Rutter on stage. “Legislators react to public sentiment,” Cook said. “They won’t know about this unless you share your sentiments with them.”

The GCLA succeeded in getting “half a loaf” this year with the insurance bill, and will come back full force in 2015 with sponsored legislation that would require criminal background checks, drug and alcohol testing, and DMV pull notice procedures for all TNC drivers in the state of California, Cook said. “The most effective advocate for the industry is YOU. You have to stay united in your message. Limousine companies are the legitimate businesses; the TNCs are the interlopers.”

Berkman gave operators an ominous warning: “If the limousine industry does not get a handle on TNCs, within five years we’ll just be an industry of 30-car operators or less, at most. We’ve got to keep fighting and cannot stop until we win.”

Related Topics: California operators, Cheryl Berkman, Dawson Rutter, GCLA, Greater California Livery Association, Gregg Cook, industry education, industry events, New York operators, Rich Azzolino, TNCs, Uber

Martin Romjue Editor
Comments ( 2 )
  • anthony

     | about 4 years ago

    There has to be a legal way such as an antitrust lawsuit against uber etc. All tranportation companies are 1 accident from loosing everything.....so uber should be included so they can have their 10,000 plus vehicles on the road having to face the same insurance /assets issue. Within no time a couple of hundred fender benders would raise their insurance rates and realize its a liability business.

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