Leading Industry Trade Groups Grapple With Tough TNC Issues

Martin Romjue
Posted on May 5, 2015
NLA lobbyist Louie Perry of Cornerstone Government Affairs updated the NLA membership March 16, 2015 on the group's legislative and regulatory efforts. (Photo by LCT)

NLA lobbyist Louie Perry of Cornerstone Government Affairs updated the NLA membership March 16, 2015 on the group's legislative and regulatory efforts. (Photo by LCT)

NLA lobbyist Louie Perry of Cornerstone Government Affairs updated the NLA membership March 16, 2015 on the group's legislative and regulatory efforts. (Photo by LCT)

NLA lobbyist Louie Perry of Cornerstone Government Affairs updated the NLA membership March 16, 2015 on the group's legislative and regulatory efforts. (Photo by LCT)

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Attendees to the 2015 International LCT Show left no doubt what industry issue was foremost on their minds and will be for at least a few years to come.

Transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber have gripped and motivated the industry in ways no prior issue could. The TNCs are proving to be what NLA President Gary Buffo calls “an existential threat” to the limousine industry business model, as TNCs flout safety, insurance, labor, licensing and operational rules that apply to chauffeured vehicle and taxicab companies. Those disparities enable TNCs to run with lower overhead costs, independent contract drivers, and discounted rates, that when combined, generate added profits based on wide revenue volume.

Underscoring the seriousness of the issue, four groups held meetings before and during the March 16-18 Show. Attendees were invited to sessions of the National Limousine Association (NLA), the leading industry trade group and a co-producer of the Show, along with Advocates for Fairness in Transportation (AFT), the Taxicab Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA), and the Florida Limousine Association (FLA), among the most active state groups on the TNC issue.

The NLA e-mailed a letter to its members March 27, signed by key industry CEOs and leaders, who met on a conference call one week after the Show. The letter cited the need for the NLA, AFT, and the TLPA to work together and speak with a unified viewpoint: “Participants on the call agreed to work steadfastly together to ensure that passenger, public, and driver safety remain of utmost importance and that any regulations are uniformly applied and enforced across all sectors of our industry.”

NLA board directors and lobbyists covered a lot of TNC policy ground during a quarterly board meeting March 15 and a general membership meeting on March 16. NLA lobbyist Louie Perry, vice president of Cornerstone Government Affairs in Washington, D.C., outlined the group’s key priority points for its legislative and regulatory efforts.

Overall, the NLA is concerned with the lack of regulation of TNCs and is seeking legislation to promote public safety by ensuring these companies comply with the common law principle of a duty of care, Perry said. The NLA team has developed the following principles:

Drivers should be properly screened, licensed and trained, which includes the following:

  • Criminal background and security check by a certified agency or equivalent.
  • Pre-hire drug testing and random testing program, when required by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
  • Driver training program that includes driver duties, customer service, safety and defensive driving skills.
  • Certified medical examination, as required by local, state and federal regulations.
  • Proper supervision, retraining and discipline when appropriate.
  • Also, ground transportation vehicles should be properly licensed, safe, and commercially insured, which includes:
  • Commercial insurance with liability coverage, as required by local, state and federal regulations.
  • Proper licensing permits.

Perry summed up recent and ongoing NLA actions:

  • Reaffirmed the NLA’s commitment to the common law principle of a duty of care.
  • The Passenger Bill of Rights, as established by the Ride Responsibly initiative, highlights the standard of care that all passengers of ground transportation vehicles are entitled to receive.
  • Created a coherent and consistent policy on TNCs to help members across the country to guide consumers to make an informed decision (in line with the Ride Responsibly initiative).
  • Planned the NLA Annual Day On Hill lobbying event in early June to educate lawmakers on the necessary steps to make sure TNCs fall under the same standards as other livery services.
  • Working as a leadership team to standardize marketing and communication efforts nationwide.
  • Helped state lobbying efforts to promote legislation that puts passenger safety at the forefront by standardizing the regulation for ground transportation vehicles, including TNCs.
  • Explored the creation of public advocacy campaigns at the state level to raise awareness of the issues mentioned above.
  • Advised the NLA board on legislative options for dealing with TNCs at the federal level.
  • Helped with NLA’s communications with the national trade association of the insurance industry to impress upon them the need for commercial for-hire operators to purchase commercial liability insurance.

Following the general membership update, NLA leaders and representatives from its hired public relations firm, Evins of New York, detailed the Ride Responsibly national campaign to create safety awareness among the American riding public about TNCs. NLA members got to see video clips arranged by Evins of Buffo appearing on national cable TV business news networks promoting Ride Responsibly. The NLA and Evins plan to announce more publicity efforts in coming months.

The newly formed Advocates for Fairness in Transportation held its first general membership meeting March 17 to a packed ballroom. The panel included AFT founders David Seelinger, CEO of Empire CLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services of Secaucus, N.J.; Cheryl Berkman, CEO of Los Angeles-based Music Express; and Jonna Sabroff, President of Los Angeles-based ITS. They were joined by former New York Taxi Limousine Commissioner Matt Daus, now a ground transportation industry attorney and President of the International Association of Transportation Regulators, and airports/travel/ground transportation expert Paul Haney who consults for AFT and the Greater California Livery Association.

The at-times lively discussion focused on taking technological and regulatory actions to advance the industry’s competitive posture. Berkman emphasized the urgency of the TNC issue by telling attendees, “We are in the fight of our lives.” Among the highlights:

  • Corporate America needs more education about TNCs and their safety risks to corporate and business travelers, Berkman said.
  • AFT plans to build a nationwide network of limo operators who can contact state and local legislators about the need to support strong safety and duty of care measures, Seelinger said.
  • The efforts toward regulatory fairness and safety practices in many ways resemble a political campaign, Daus said. That requires targeted surgical strikes on multiple fronts.
  • The NLA hiring of a public relations firm is a wise move because the TNC battle is not so much about transportation as it is warding off a “hostile takeover,” Daus said.
  • Labor-related class action lawsuits regarding employment policies governing TNC drivers could gain traction and alter the TNC business model.
  • Disseminate e-mails and letters to politicians and regulators about “bad TNC stories” involving criminal incidents, safety violations and poor customer service practices.
  • Highlight data and security concerns about privacy of credit card information among TNCs. Resist surge pricing.
  • Work together as an industry on a universal app with an open API instead of multiple white-label apps that cannot compete as strongly against TNC apps, Daus said.
  • Push for fair and sensible regulation instead of mass de-regulation, Berkman said. “Our industry does not want to be de-regulated. I want background checks, drug tests and training for drivers. It’s not just one big melting pot. We need to protect our clientele. We cannot be lightened up on. It’s a matter of safety and good business.”
  • The limousine industry may not have as much money as TNCs, but it has “facts, common sense and the moral high ground” to put its message out in front of the right people, Haney said.

Led by TLPA President Mike Fogarty — and the co-chairs of its Limousine & Sedan Steering Committee, Tom Arrighi, Avik Kebessa and Mike Pinckard — about 30 limousine operators participated in a committee meeting with a wide-ranging agenda. TLPA leaders briefed members on TLPA’s effort to bring TNCs into compliance with public safety and licensing requirements and to review new developments on federal employment issues.

During the meeting, TLPA released and reviewed its new, nine-page paper highlighting nine key issues — customer privacy, driver screening, insurance coverage, vehicle safety, cost of fares, hours of service, areas of service, licensing and inspection fees and taxes, and limiting vehicles — that need to be addressed with a review of TNC public safety and licensing requirements. The operators then discussed those issues and noted how they are playing out during regulatory reviews in Massachusetts, Arizona, Michigan, New York, Houston and other locations.
The TNC discussion ended with a review of the TLPA-sponsored Who’s Driving You? public safety campaign’s website, which features position papers, fact sheets, blogs, videos and a listing of allegations of assaults, kidnappings, deaths, sexual assaults, driver strikes, and other incidents by TNC drivers. It was noted that TLPA and Who’s Driving You? also address TNC issues on Facebook and Twitter.

Regarding employment issues, committee members reviewed the Affordable Care Act, the National Labor Relations Board’s speedy union vote rules, organizing efforts, overtime wages and independent contractor challenges.
Members of the Florida Limousine Association, which won the 2015 LCT Association Award of Excellence, marshalled about 60 operators and attendees March 16 to openly discuss strategies to counter illegal TNC activity.

FLA President Rick Versace urged attendees to get the message across to both legislators and consumers that limousine companies are not trying to stop TNCs. Rather, he is concerned about public safety because TNCs often operate outside of standard limousine and taxi rules and regulations.

Guest speakers at the event included TLPA CEO Al LaGasse, Fogarty, and Daus. All speakers made the case that everyone needs to work together at the municipal, state and national levels to ensure TNCs abide by rules that ensure public safety, and to support lobbying and public relations efforts with legislatures nationwide.

“It’s important to share information about what’s going on around the country so we all can learn what’s working to counter TNCs,” LaGasse told attendees. “We have hired a PR firm and a social media firm, and we have lobbyists at the federal level to [speak] out about TNCs and public safety. It’s important that we all share the same language when talking about TNCs in every county and state.”

LCT East Coast Editor Tom Halligan and TLPA President Mike Fogarty contributed to this report.

Related Topics: Alfred LaGasse, Cheryl Berkman, Cornerstone Government Affairs, David Seelinger, Florida Limousine Association, Florida operators, Gary Buffo, ILCT 2015, industry trends, Jonna Sabroff, legislation, limo tradeshows, lobbying, Louie Perry, Matt Daus, Mike Fogarty, National Limousine Association, Paul Haney, Rick Versace, taxis, TLPA, TNCs, Uber

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