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There has been much public press in the past few days, particularly in New York, on the threat of a new terrorist attacks via limousines.
Due to FBI warnings, the federal government is looking into state licensing regulations as they relate to screening limousine and black car licenses. Because of this negative publicity, the limousine industry may experience reactions from clients demanding reassurance.
This is what some Northeast operators are saying today
* “There have been a lot more random road blocks at the
tunnels and in midtown next to landmark buildings recently,
and they do seem to be targeting limos more than sedans.
This obviously causes delays. I have been telling my limo
clients to allot an additional half-hour for their trips,
depending on where they are traveling.
David Stone, president of Hollywood Limousine and Global Security Services in New York
* “On Tuesday (Aug. 10), one of our drivers was going through the Lincoln Tunnel when he hit a road block. He was pulled over, asked for his credentials, and even though everything was in order, the vehicle was searched, and the driver and clients were asked to step out of the vehicle.
They opened two bags of luggage with consent from the passengers. The passengers were good about it, but they called to tell me how bad they felt that my driver had been harassed so badly. I think it’s probably because he’s Egyptian. Now he doesn’t want to go to New York anymore, which is a problem because he’s one of my best New York drivers.
“Due to the delays we’ve been experiencing, we temporarily
changed our rate structure to the New York airports. We
used to do flat rates to the airports, but we are doing
hourly rates until after the Republican Convention.”
Michael Barreto, owner of Imperial Limousine & Transportation in Aston, Pa.
* “We have been experiencing delays, but nothing too
terrible. I think it helps that our drivers all have the
proper credentials. We have been doing national background
and social security checks for over a dozen years. Of
course, delays can come up at any time, so we tell our
clients to add 15 minutes onto their travel time.”
Amy Birnbaum, CEO of Royal Coachman Worldwide in Orange, N.J.
New York is the hub of the livery industry and for U.S. commerce. The city is a likely target if another terrorist attack should happen.
In Manhattan alone there are more than 10,000 vehicles in service. The Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) believes its screening of limos drivers is sufficient, but not according to an article that ran Aug. 11 in the New York Daily News.
Following is a compilation of several articles that have appeared in newspapers across the country.
Could Limos Be the Next Terrorism Weapon?
In New York, Drivers Are Checked Only for Crimes Committed Within State
Terrorists could try to use limousines filled with explosives instead of trucks, feds warn.
A terrorist heading the FBI's Al-Qaida watch list could be trying to become a licensed limousine driver in New York City right now -- but city officials never would know.
A prospective limo driver could even have a murder conviction or have pleaded guilty to rape charges in another state -- but the city's limited criminal background check would not necessarily catch that information.
With new FBI alerts pinpointing limousines as possible bomb carriers, glaring holes in the Taxi and Limousine Commission's security checks could easily be exploited by would-be terrorists.
To become a licensed limo driver in New York: You must pass a Department of Motor Vehicles defensive driving test; be at least 19 years old; have a New York, New Jersey, Connecticut or Pennsylvania chauffeur's driver's license; have an original Social Security card; and be fingerprinted for a criminal background check.
Fingerprints are then sent to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, which conducts a state criminal background check.
But only people with convictions or arrests within New York State would be detected. People with convictions in other states who move to New York would not raise red flags, unless they told their parole officer they were headed to the city.
"It's pretty messed up when you can't get the basic background checks across state lines," said Stephen Flynn, author of "America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us From Terrorism."
New York State has the authority to conduct FBI background checks. Applicants for Civil Service jobs in New York City and for any job with the city's education department must undergo a federal background check.
Those requirements do not apply to limo drivers. On Aug. 6, the FBI sent out a bulletin warning that terrorists have considered using rental vehicles -- singling out for-hire limousines -- to conceal bombs.
The limos would not attract as much suspicion as a cargo van, but would have enough trunk space to hold a sizable bomb, the FBI warned.Al-Qaida’s plans included driving bomb- laden limousines into top U.S. targets, according to computer disks seized July 25 during anti-terrorist raids in Pakistan.
The computers and disks contain chilling details of how vulnerable some landmarks are and how terrorists could use limo bombs, hijacked helicopters and other schemes to destroy them.
White House Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend said that even though some of the plans are years old, "It's the detailed nature of them that ought to frighten us."
Terrorists also considered hijacking tourist helicopters and using speedboats and divers to devastate New York harbor.
Intelligence sources said that terrorists believed a limousine with darkened windows could evade security at target buildings. Besides the trunk, the inside of the limo could be stripped and also filled with explosives.
After casing the underground parking garage at Prudential Plaza in Newark, N.J., a 24-story white-marble skyscraper where more than 1,000 insurance employees go to work every day, al-Qaida concluded that a truck or van might not get near the building – but a black limo would have no problem.
The terrorists' recommendation: Get a vehicle like a Lincoln Town Car, gut it, pack it with explosives and drive right past security.The al-Qaida surveillance information began in 2000, but an updated photo of the Prudential building was just added to the files in January.In New York, expanding TLC background checks would require approval from the state legislature.
"The current law only authorizes the [TLC] to request a state background check," said Jessica Scaperotti, spokeswoman for the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Lynn Rasic, a spokeswoman for Gov. Pataki, said the governor is concerned about the issue. "We take the issue of integrity and background checks very seriously, which is why we are going to work with the Taxi and Limousine Commission to look into this issue," Rasic said.
Allan Fromberg, a TLC spokesman, said the commission is comfortable with its current background check. "At this time, we believe that what we have is very much adequate to the task of showing the fitness of applicants for the roles that we license for," he said.
What all this means to the limousine industry is still undecided. But new rules may soon impact operators throughout the country. There could be more vehicle inspections, more extensive driver background checks, elimination of darkened windows and heightened security access at airports and other high-security buildings.
Operators need to be proactive in the event that continued negative press concerning the industry causes loss of business.
There may be expenses incurred doing federal background checks that go beyond current state requirements. There may be more training needed to teach chauffeurs what to look for when driving suspicious passengers. There may be extra costs for delays and wait time incurred.
Operators need to be more careful profiling new clients. If anything looks suspicious, you are advised to call your local authorities or the FBI at 703-563-3236.
The NLA is currently setting up meetings with Homeland Security and may hold a press conference if matters don't simmer down soon.
NLA Executive Director Fran Shane said his aim is to “be out front and cooperate.”
Livery Cabs, Limos, Studied for Security Risks
New York – Recent FBI warnings that limousines could be used to conceal powerful bombs have prompted some here to call for more stringent regulation of the metro area's thriving black cab and limo industry.'
The intent: to discourage terrorists and make the public feel safer.
In the mess that is Manhattan traffic, black cars and limousines are a transportation staple. But now there are new concerns that very familiarity could also make them a convenient tool in a terror attack.
Fernando Mateo, NYS Federation OF Taxi Drivers: "We thank God that no incidents have happened."
On Wednesday, the president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers called for some changes he says will increase safety and anti-terrorism measures for the limo and livery cab industry. On the list of suggestions -- mandating that black car and limo drivers post their credentials for passengers to see, much like yellow cabbies do.
Fernando Mateo: "Not posting your credentials, it's criminal. You don't know who you're getting in a car with if that driver isn't posting his credentials. That's common sense."
Mateo also says tougher background checks would boost public confidence in livery drivers. The Taxi and Limousine Commission, while admitting it has recently talked about broadening its security checks with state officials, told us:
"What we have is adequate to the task but anything can be improved upon." -- Allan Fromberg, TLC Spokesman
Marco Rodriguez has been a livery driver for 13 years. He's heard the recent terror warnings, but doesn't believe most New Yorkers need to be worried there might be a terrorist behind the wheel.
Marco Rodriguez, Livery Cab Driver: "I think it's overacting, but I don't think it's bad checking up on people. But, like I said, basically, whoever calls our service, we're serving the community. It's a community car service, so we're basically known all around the community."
Fernando Mateo points out that because many of city's livery cabs outside Manhattan, in the outer boroughs, they are often forgotten or overlooked in security planning. And that, he says, is a vulnerability that could be exploited.
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