Tough New Rules Would Slam California Limo Operators With More Costs

Posted on September 5, 2013

[UPDATED 9/5/13 5:05 p.m. PDT w/limo size specifics; 3:55 p.m. PDT w/exact language from the bill]

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California limousine industry could be just days away from seeing legislation pass that would wallop operators with costly requirements to retrofit all existing limousines designed for 10 people or less with one or possibly two additional exit points by Jan. 1, 2016.

S.B. 109, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, the Senate Majority Leader, would radically alter the safety requirements for stretch limousines, especially those carrying up to nine passengers [120-in./10-pack stretches or shorter] which so far have not been subject to safety inspections in the state of California.

If passed, the legislation stands to raise the costs of running stretch limousines in California and may force many operators to raise rates or just get out of the stretch limo niche entirely.

The strict legislation comes in the wake of the fatal May 4 stretch limousine fire near San Francisco in which five women celebrating a bachelorette party could not escape the limo, a 1999 Lincoln Town Car 120-in. stretch, as it was consumed by a fireball on the San Mateo Bridge. Four other women did get out and survived. A state investigation determined that the fire was caused by an obscure series of catastrophic factors that so far have not been identified as causes in any other stretch limousine fires or accidents. In addition, the limousine was carrying one passenger beyond its legal safety limit (in the limo compartment) and the chauffeur failed to immediately pull over when hearing the first warning of smoke from a passenger.

Long before the results of the investigation were announced by the California Highway Patrol on Aug. 19, Corbett and state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, were proposing sweeping new safety rules for stretch limousines. Hill is sponsoring S.B. 338, known as the fire extinguisher bill, which would require two fire extinguishers to be installed on every stretch limousine in the state of California and subject stretch limousines carrying 10 people (including driver) or fewer to annual safety inspections.

S.B. 109 would cover two major categories of limousines carrying up to 10 people (8 back + 2 front, or nine passengers plus chauffeur): 

  • All new limousines purchased after July 1, 2015 would be required to have a fifth door and one additional emergency exit, such as a pop-out window or a pop-out roof hatch.
  • All existing stretch limousines would need to have two additional exit points — either two pop-out windows OR one pop-out window and a pop-out roof hatch — installed no later than Jan. 1, 2016. According to the language in the proposed S.B. 109 bill, it "would prohibit any person from operating a limousine, in any city, county, or city and county that has been modified or extended for purposes of increasing vehicle length in an amount sufficient to accommodate additional passengers unless the limousine is equipped with at least two rear side doors and one or two rear windows that the rear seat passengers or all passengers of the vehicle may open from the inside of the vehicle in case of any fire or other emergency, as specified.. . . At least one push-out window shall be located on each side of the vehicle, unless the design of the limousine precludes the installation of a push-out window on one side of the vehicle, in which case the second push-out window shall instead be located in the roof of the vehicle. If the design of the limousine precludes the installation of even one push-out window on a side of the vehicle, one push-out window shall instead be located in the roof of the vehicle."

[NOTE: Chauffeured vehicles with 11 or more people (including driver) are already subject to state rules governing buses that require safety inspections and additional exit points]:

Lobbyists and leaders of the Greater California Livery Association are trying to amend the language in the proposed bill to change the retrofit deadline to Jan. 1, 2019, while requiring only one additional exit point for existing limousines and new limousines. The egress point could either be a fifth door OR a pop-out window; it would be a market decision for operators and coach builders, said Rob Grossglauser of Government Affairs Consulting in Sacramento, the lobbying firm representing the GCLA.

The GCLA, which is officially calling for a NO vote on S.B. 109 in its present form, urges operators to call or fax Sen. Ellen Corbett’s office as soon as possible to support the GCLA-preferred changes to the bill. S.B. 109 and S.B. 338 are now live bills on the Assembly floor and could be voted on as early as Friday. The final date for consideration on all legislation is Thursday, Sept. 12 when the legislative session is anticipated to finish for 2013. The bills also would have to go to the State Senate by Sept. 12 for a concurrent vote that would not allow any amendments. So far, Corbett has told GCLA representatives that she is unwilling to loosen the two-year retrofit requirement.

Estimates on how many stretch limousines would be affected range from the GCLA’s number of 3,000 to the 4,200 figure from the California Public Utilities Commission, which licenses and regulates all charter party carriers in the state.

GCLA President Mark Stewart estimates five-door stretch limousines cost on average about $7,000 more than four-door stretch models. Following the Great Recession, there are now fewer manufacturers building stretch limousines in the U.S. as demand for them has waned. A 120-in. stretch limousine, for example, now costs in the $90,000s, Stewart said. New five-door models could easily straddle the $100,000 price point.

Exact costs on the retrofits are not yet available, but an experienced manufacturing source who asked not to be quoted told LCT the estimated parts and labor costs on a sedan stretch limo window or roof retrofit could range from $6,000 to $15,000 per vehicle. Also of great concern to the GCLA and limousine operators is whether California has enough manufacturers capable of doing -- or even willing to do -- retrofitted pop-out windows and/or roof hatches. And if so, would they be able to handle all the anticipated volume before 2016?

Once home to Krystal Enterprises, the largest limousine manufacturer in the world until it closed shop in 2012 after filing for bankruptcy, California’s only major stretch limousine manufacturer is Tiffany Coachworks in Corona. Other limousine manufacturers include smaller custom limousine builders spread throughout the Inland Empire and Orange and Los Angeles counties. [Krystal founder and former CEO Ed Grech formed a new company last year, Grech Motors Inc., based in Riverside, which builds high-end minibuses but not stretch limos].

Fire Extinguisher Bill
S.B. 338 is a somewhat tamer bill than S.B. 109, since its requirement for installing two fire extinguishers aboard stretch limousines is supported by the GCLA and corresponds with recent safety recommendations from the National Limousine Association. One possible sticking point is the issue of annual safety inspections; the CHP has recommended an inspection fee that could range from $25 to $75 per limo or bus per year, which would raise the current $15 annual fee for bus inspections, Grossglauser said. The GCLA could agree to an annual $25 fee, but nothing more, Stewart said. Lobbyists have suggested possible bi-annual inspections as one compromise alternative.

What You Can Do
GCLA members and limo operators can reach Sen. Corbett’s office at (916) 651-4010. The fax number is (916) 327-2433. Emails are not advised.

California operators also should call their local Assembly and Senate representative and ask to vote NO on SB 109. California legislators contact list here.

— Martin Romjue, LCT editor

Related Topics: California operators, Greater California Livery Association, legislation, limousine fires, limousine manufacturing, lobbying, Mark Stewart, state regulations

Comments ( 9 )
  • Richard

     | about 7 years ago

    @ Richards comment as a driver you seem to know nothing about this industry. A 6 passenger limo is only stretched 50-70 inches and can only hold 6 in the rear they can all get out of the vehicle as long as the child locks are not engaged like some dumb drivers do. Before this incident when was the last time a passenger died in any limo in California?!! The incident was purely the drivers fault as he did not role the divider done to talk with the passengers as they were trying to tell him that they smelled something burning. Again DRIVERS fault for the deaths of 5 nurses. Yes the car caught on fire but the driver failed to use common sense as he was talking on the phone. I still cannot believe he was not charged at all. As for your nonsense of not having to inspect the limos that is the best thing to happen on this issues as forcing inspections will run the unprofessionals out of this business, it will also force companies and manufacturers to make new limos with 5 or 6 doors on 120 inch stretches and also cost the consumers more money in terms of rates. Rates have been held down by unprofessional companies for more than 10 years now. By the way stop letting the extra passenger in. It is overloading and a good driver never allows this to happen. Call the office and get them a separate car.

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