South Florida Operators Challenge Avis Avoiding Regulations

LCT Staff
Posted on October 1, 2008

BOCA RATON, Fla. — As Avis enters the chauffeured transportation sector nationwide, it so far gets to avoid many of the rules that operators must follow. The rental car chain does not need to license its chauffeurs or meet the stricter safety requirements of limousine and chauffeured transportation companies. That means Avis has to pay less for licensing and labor, thereby undercutting the chauffeured transportation business model.

Such disparities prompted a meeting of South Florida operators and local regulators from Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade so the operators could tell them about the regulatory breach. The meeting, hosted by the — Florida Limousine Association, the West Florida Limousine Association, and the Florida Ground Transportation Association — drew about 15 operators and association members along with various code compliance officers, airport law enforcement officers, and consumer affairs officials.

At stake are the rules by which chauffeured and rental car companies will play. If rental car companies keep their easier arrangements, then many chauffeured transportation companies may shift their business models to adjust to the competitive advantages of Avis.

“Our only concern is that as a new competitor Avis should be regulated as we are,” said NLA President Richard Kane, who attended the meeting. “Now, Avis goes around that public safety net of three or four decades. It uses a technical loophole by nature of its core business, rental car, to get into chauffeured transportation without registering as a chauffeured transportation operator.”

Kane explained that rental car companies can essentially rent out a vehicle to a customer, and then bring in a sub-contracted chauffeur from an outside vendor. Such supposed chauffeurs need no formal training or licensing — just a standard driver’s license. As a result, the rental car driven customer is served by a less qualified driver, which compromises safety. Avis vehicles also lack permits, decals, airport transponders, and some even have out-of-state license plates.

In the case of Avis, the rental car agency provides vehicles from Avis and chauffeurs from another company called We Drive U, requiring two contracts to hire the car with chauffeur, said Staci Garcia, owner of Prestige Limousines, Inc. of Boca Raton, who attended the meeting. So Avis sidesteps the rules and classifies its cars as private and not vehicles-for-hire. The We Drive U chauffeurs are not required to complete the numerous and costly background checks, attend the classes, or get the driver "Hack" cards that are required of all chauffeurs in all counties, Garcia said. (A Hack card is a driver’s identification card issued by the county that gives permission to drive as a vehicle-for-hire).

Garcia said the meeting included the showing of an entertaining video, “Avis Exposed,” shot by her husband, Ray Garcia, president of the Florida Limousine Association, while he was being chauffeured in a rented Avis Hyundai around Miami. The Avis car picked up and dropped off at Miami International Airport, received two citations, and was stopped and the driver interrogated three separate times, Staci Garcia said. Vehicles-for-hire picking up at MIA require transponders in vehicles (it costs money to enter MIA), yearly inspections, proper decals, chauffeurs with trip sheets, and clear identification of their Hack licenses. And any chauffeured vehicle driving and dropping off point to point within Miami requires an additional permit.

The video was shown again in late September at the quarterly meeting of the Limousine Advisory Board in Miami-Dade County, where officials from the county Passenger Transportation Regulatory Division, the Port of Miami, and Miami International Airport heard from several area operators about the regulatory inequities between Avis and luxury limousine service operators.

“They were shocked at the video,” said Carla Boroday, owner of Associated Limousine Service of Miami and president of the Florida Ground Transportation Association. “They were shocked that the driver said they don’t have any jurisdiction over us, the inspectors don’t mean anything, Avis doesn’t have to follow by the rules.”

Regulators told the operators they realize there is a problem and that they need time to research applicable ordinances and provisions. “I told them, you regulators are aware of activities going on, you don’t need time to study it because I gave them the most important points,” Boroday said.

For South Florida operators, a quick resolution is critical since the Avis market intrusion already has hurt business. In one week alone, Avis provided 78 cars and 78 drivers for a convention at Miami's Intercontinental Hotel, for an entire week 24 hours a day, Garcia said. Florida operators are looking at two upcoming Super Bowls — in Tampa in 2009 and Miami in 2010 — and trying to enforce or enact legislation to stop Avis before time runs out, she added. Boroday added that a massive Avis chauffeured showing at the Bowls could seriously deprive operators of a vital business opportunity.

Kane said the NLA opposes any measure or situation that compromises the safety of passengers. The NLA would prefer to maintain the current regulatory and safety structure, and make sure Avis complies. The regulatory disparities can only be addressed at the local level since there are no federal authorities, administrative rules, or legislation that governs this issue. “Unfortunately, every one of these regulatory agencies has a different way of doing things,” he said.

The NLA plans to send letters to as many local officials as possible about the need for consistent regulations for chauffeured and rental vehicle services. The Avis issue in South Florida also has emerged in many major cities, including San Francisco, Houston, and New York, in particular.

Source: LCT Magazine

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