Operators Build Support Among Newly Seated Legislators

Posted on January 21, 2015
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Greater California Livery Association sent its officers and some of its members to the State Capitol on Jan. 15 to lobby members of the newly seated 2015 Legislature and talk about the regulatory challenges posed by Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), such as Uber.

As new legislators move into their offices, some still with unpacked boxes, nearly 30 GCLA members broke up into smaller groups and met with about 25 Assembly representatives, Senators and consultants on key transportation and commerce committees.

The visits were arranged by lobbyists Gregg Cook and Rob Grossglauser of Government Affairs Consulting, the Capitol area lobbying firm retained by the GCLA.

GCLA Secretary Anne Daniells provided this summary on the three primary topics that were the focus of the day, including at least two important proposed bills for the 2015 legislative session:

Stretch Limo Safety
SB109 passed unanimously last year amid the emotional aftermath of five deaths in the stretch limousine fire in San Mateo on May 4, 2013. With few facts and without consulting the GCLA, this bill was pushed through to enforce more exits on vehicles stretched for the purpose of accommodating up to 10 passengers. The GCLA supports safety measures overall, but requiring all new limousines to meet the new safety requirements, and retrofitting old ones, by July 1, 2015 poses numerous challenges.

No grandfathering was allowed on this measure, so nearly 80% of state operators have a vehicle that requires retrofitting. The GCLA requested a grandfather clause or at least an extension to allow data to be analyzed by legislators. Now that the GCLA has the data, including retrofit cost estimates closer to $30,000 per vehicle, seeking a delay in implementation was deemed a good strategy by Carrie Cornwell, chief of staff for Assembly Rep. Anthony Rendon, Chair of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee. Cornwell also noted that “legislation in the wake of a tragic event is not always the best for the long-term.” With the California Highway Patrol also confused about vague language in the law, the GCLA has partnered with them to help clarify enforcement, and the group awaits confirmation from legislators who are willing to author this bill.  

A second bill related to TNCs is in the works, again. Last year, California approved AB 612, requiring TNC operators to carry insurance at the $1 million dollar per vehicle taxi rate, even higher than the insurance requirements for charter party carrier vehicles. However, the Transportation Committee begrudgingly allowed the insurance to be “off” when a TNC driver does not have the app active on his phone. While not a perfect insurance solution, this year’s efforts centers more on passenger safety. Assembly Rep. Adrin Nazarian is pursuing greater driver accountability in the form of requiring Department of Justice (DOJ) background checks, pre-employment and random drug and alcohol screening, and participation in the DMV pull-notice program. The state does not require any type of background checks on livery, either, but GCLA made it clear that safety is key, and that the GCLA was willing to support this requirement as DOJ checks are only allowed if mandated by law.  

Assemblyman Nazarian met with all attending GCLA members in a Capitol room and shared his insights in his fight ahead.  After last year’s failure of AB 612 rule over Uber’s lobbyist push, he appreciated the lessons learned.  “A fight revealed their hands. When a bully uses a sledgehammer, they reveal who they are. Perhaps legislators now see how Uber hired so many lobbyists and out-hustled them so quickly.”  This time around, Nazarian’s AB 2412 offers a three-pronged strategy toward victory: 1) Law enforcement endorsement of the bill, rather than business, will help validate the goal of safety; 2) It reflects the input from working closely with the Transportation Committee and the GCLA, along with support from many limousine companies; 3) Because GCLA is willing to take on DOJ background checks, too, Nazarian believes his argument strength lies in this type of consistency across all modes of transportation. He asked that GCLA members be back on Capitol Hill when his bill is introduced.

CPUC Audit
The third issue addressed by GCLA was the now-final state audit on the California Public Utilities Commission, the agency charged with regulating charter-party carriers and limousine services. State auditors clearly stated the failure of the CPUC to enforce its own rules. After taking nearly $9 million dollars in funds from California operators, the GCLA is asking all legislators and transportation committee members to pressure the PUC to use these funds for greater enforcement, particularly against illegal TNCs. California operators face heavy regulations by several other state agencies, including the DMV and the PUC. Naturally, enforcement and consistency are necessary components as part of the duty of care to passengers in vehicles for hire. As a positive note for California operators, Sue Kately, chief consultant for the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee, considers the PUC’s role in regulation of ground transportation “antiquated” and remains “unconvinced” that consumer protection is being addressed by the PUC at all. “It is critical to get into the PUC early, and problem solve with them as a significant stakeholder,” she said. Cornwell noted that the GCLA’s relationship with PUC is a long-term strategy, but GCLA should “poke the regulator” for responses. Kately added that heavy lobbying by any group can limit regulation on niche businesses; in this case, TNC legislation allows TNCs to “exploit employees and independent contractors.”

Given the understanding and knowledge on Capitol Hill, it is not surprising that the PUC refused to meet with the GCLA. Even when GCLA has offered and been accepted as a resource to improve enforcement, the PUC has not asked for it. However, the GCLA plans to reach out to PUC legislative staff and the California Utilities and Commerce Committee that oversees PUC authority.  

Wrapping up the lobbying day, a late afternoon meeting with the new Chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee got some quick results. Assembly Rep. Jim Frazier and his staff are scheduling meetings with two of the PUC commissioners to encourage action on the PUC audit recommendations. Since CHP and DMV fall under Frazier’s purview, too, they met with the Senate Transportation Committee counterpart and have agreed that a clean-up bill is needed. The next step is to layout the specifics.

Senate Transportation Committee members also met with the GCLA. As chief consultant to the Senate Transportation and Housing Committing, Randy Chinn drove home how important data is on TNC dangers to help with PUC enforcement.  Backed by Alicia Priego, Capitol Director for Sen. Jim Beall, Chair of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, Chinn asked the GCLA to compile articles and information that would help its cause and educate legislators.

Source: GCLA Secretary Anne Daniells reported and compiled this article.

Related Topics: Anne Daniells, background checks, California operators, California Public Utilities Commission, GCLA, Greater California Livery Association, Gregg Cook, industry politics, legislation, limousine fires, lobbying, passenger safety, regulatory enforcement, safety, stretch limousine, vehicle safety

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