STOP IT! CA Flashes Red Light At Airport Green Policies

LCT Staff
Posted on December 1, 2010

Operators win a key battle in dissuading public airport officials from limiting black luxury vehicles through strict clean vehicle policies.

LOS ANGELES — State authorities told officials at San Francisco and San Diego international airports this week that they overreached and stepped outside of their bounds in establishing clean vehicle regulations that would severely constrain the rights of operators of black luxury vehicles to access airport property.

The letters from the California Public Utilities Commission, the state agency with the primary authority to regulate the limousine industry, for the time being stymie policies that would have levied stiff fines on any chauffeured vehicles that did not meet stringent mileage and emissions standards. Those standards, created by airport commissions and their administrators, would have either penalized or eliminated most conventional black chauffeured vehicles from accessing airport terminals. The rules would target such client favorites as the Lincoln Town Car Executive L and Cadillac Escalade ESV.

However, the issue is by no means dead, since the airports can work to get the California Legislature to approve laws granting them the green authority they seek. They also can appeal the PUC decision to incoming Gov. Jerry Brown and/or the California Air Resources Board, which may exercise administrative authority to issue a ruling in conflict with the PUC’s legal opinion.

“We won a big battle, but we may not have won the war,” said Alan Shanedling, the former president of the GREATER CALIFORNIA LIVERY ASSOCIATION. “We hope the airports would not challenge this by enforcing their rules,” he told LCT Wednesday afternoon.

While he was still GCLA president on Sept. 22, Shanedling, also a Los Angeles-area operator, wrote a letter on behalf of the GCLA to PUC chief Paul Wuerstle seeking a legal opinion from the PUC on the clean vehicle policies at SFO and the San Diego International Airport (SAN). Shanedling wrote to Wuerstle that operators were troubled by the policies because they “penalize operators for operating vehicles other than those deemed environmentally acceptable to the airports and dictate that any vehicle over seven years will not be allowed to operate at either airport.” The correspondence was one of several to the PUC from the GCLA this year presenting the organization's position.

“The GCLA believes these policies violate PUC codes 5371.4 (b & c),” Shanedling wrote. “The PUC does not dictate the type nor age of our vehicles. The industry builds its fleets based on the requested vehicles our clients desire. Certainly requiring vehicle types and age restrictions on the industry would be more burdensome than those imposed by the Commission. Under 5371.4(c) the code speaks of ‘reasonable and non-discriminatory local airport rules.’ Again, requiring the industry to have vehicles our clients may not prefer would be unreasonable. How could a passenger rent a SUV from Hertz, etc. (airport tenant) and not be penalized, yet renting the same vehicle from a limousine company could result in triple trip fees at San Francisco Airport?”

In identically worded letters to John Martin, director of SFO, and Jim Myers, manager of ground transportation at SAN, Julie Halligan, deputy director of the PUC’s Consumer Protection and Safety Division, wrote that the division believes the clean vehicle policies which dictate the type of vehicle a carrier may operate are contrary to Section 5371.4 (of the PUC code).

“In our view, the Legislature elected to give airports the authority only to regulate those matters that directly affect airport operations, such as passenger loading and unloading, and airport parking. Matters affecting a carrier’s transportation services generally are not within the domain of airport authorities. Otherwise, a charter-party carrier licensed by the [PUC] to operate anywhere in the state could be subject to different, and possibly conflicting, regulations at each airport it serves. Such a scheme could result, for example, in airport authorities controlling the types of vehicles a carrier is permitted to use in all of its [PUC-regulated] operations, the vast majority of which are conducted not on airport properties, but over the public roadways.”

While Halligan’s letter called the SFO and SAN efforts “laudable,” she wrote that it is the Legislature that has the power to set any standards that might be appropriate for vehicles operated by limousine services, provided they do not conflict with federal law.

The SFO and SAN green policies set off a furor among California operators this year who were concerned that the policies would be implemented before affordable green luxury vehicles became widely available from vehicle manufacturers. The handful of decent green luxury vehicles on the market now that would meet the airport rules either are too small or too expensive for most operators, who maintain they cannot run viable and profitable businesses under the SFO and SAN policies.

California, as the state with the most registered limousine operators, and the state with the most zealous environmental movement, has emerged as ground central in shaping the debate about the extent of green regulations, and what type of local ground transportation policies are likely to set precedents nationwide.

In a related development, the GCLA’s extensive efforts to rally operators and combat the airport clean vehicle policies this year created a rift on the GCLA board over tactics and approaches that eventually led to Shanedling’s resignation as president on Sept. 30. Meanwhile, GCLA second vice president Mark Stewart has been serving as acting president of the GCLA.

The GREATER CALIFORNIA LIVERY ASSOCIATION holds its next meeting and its annual holiday party on Tuesday, Dec. 14 in Los Angeles, where the board will proceed with organizing and carrying out elections for a slate of officers for 2011.

— Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine

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