Operations

Philly Area Operators Prep For DNC Ground Moves

Lexi Tucker
Posted on July 1, 2016

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. — As the battle for votes rages on, one thing remains constant: The need for transportation to and from events where the Presidential nominees will claim to run for the glory of their respective parties. LCT reported on the preparations companies are making for the Republican National Convention, and the situation looks quite similar for the Democratic National Convention, which will be held at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Penn., July 25-28.

Overprepared > Underprepared

For LCT's coverage of preparation for the RNC, click here.

“We have 50 chauffeurs available in Princeton, which is less than an hour from our Philadelphia branch,” Gallagher says. “In Mahwah, we have a few hundred chauffeurs. Depending on demand, we have resources we can reach to that are internal.”Much preparation goes into ensuring everything will be ready for the week. For larger companies, it’s all about coordination between branches. Raymond Gallagher, VP of sales and marketing for Flyte Tyme Worldwide Transportation in Mahwah, N.J., explains Philadelphia operations will not need a lot of affiliate help.

Mike Barreto, Philadelphia branch manager for Flyte Tyme
Mike Barreto, Philadelphia branch manager for Flyte Tyme
Mike Barreto, Philadelphia branch manager for Flyte Tyme, adds, “We are very fortunate we have a panic button if we need to use it. We have hundreds of chauffeurs available to us.” Chauffeurs are provided with a packet of information containing maps, info on best access to the area, and pick up and drop off locations for the convention.

The company also is working with the city to get permits for the vehicles that need access to the closed off perimeter of the Wells Fargo Center. They are collaborating with hotels to put together shuttles or have vehicles on location that could take guests and lobbyists back and forth to the DNC.

For companies using affiliates, they must do it the right way. Ron Robinson, operations manager of Sterling Limousine, says, “We have cleared it with the Philadelphia parking authority that we are allowed to use affiliates from outside our market to act upon our behalf. The demand is great already. We are probably seeing about 35% booking for our 10 to 12 hour minimums.”

Ron Robinson, operations manager of Sterling Limousine
Ron Robinson, operations manager of Sterling Limousine

However, much like those who are trying to ready their services for the RNC, lack of detailed perimeter information is a problem for this convention as well, Barreto says. “They can’t plan so far out in advance that it’s public knowledge, because then there’s potential for a security threat, especially when delegates are involved. We have to react to the information that is given to us at the time that it’s given to us.”

This being the case, planning for big conventions has to start many months in advance. “Our meeting and events division goes in six to 10 months ahead of time and maps out all of the potential routes and looks at all of the points of interest (the facility where the event will be taking place, different hotels, etc.),” says Jake Shepich, marketing director for Carey International. This includes mapping passenger loading and unloading areas, working with the city and various event venues, and researching potential construction projects scheduled at that time. “Everything really starts with route planning and understanding what is going to be happening in the city and the best ways in and out,” Shepich says.

Planning intensifies as the event approaches. “About two weeks before the event, we’ll assign specific chauffeurs to vehicles, start safety inspections, and make sure everything is up to par,” Shepich says. “Our quality assurance team will be on the ground making sure every van, bus, and mini-bus going out is pristine and meets all mechanical standards for safety.” The company doesn’t run any large vehicles more than five years old or sedans older than three.

When it comes to vetting chauffeurs, operators who claim to take duty of care seriously should take notes. Carey International checks its chauffers’  Motor Vehicle Reports every three months, runs criminal background checks every year, and also requires five-panel drug tests randomly once every year (at minimum) per chauffeur, Shepich says.

Supplying The Demand

Flyte Tyme, which also handled transportation during the 2015 papal visit, is used to dealing with an onslaught of last minute bookings. “Traditionally with these events, considering there are so many moving parts, I think a lot of the demand will come last minute. That’s what the trend has been. With the papal visit, we had a lot of last minute bookings and a lot of it came from other transportation companies as well as from other sponsors or corporations,” Barreto says.

Tim O’Brien, owner of Preferred Car & Limousine
Tim O’Brien, owner of Preferred Car & Limousine
Small fleet operator Tim O’Brien, owner of Preferred Car & Limousine in Pennsauken, N.J., says this might have something to do with the location of this year’s DNC. “There are not many hotels around the Wells Fargo Center. It’s also within a rock’s throw of the airport. Most of the hotels will be in Center City, which is only a 15-20 min. minute ride. There’s also a train that goes right into Center City,” he says. “The ride from the Philadelphia Airport to Center City is maybe a $60 ride with gratuity. We’re not really interested in that. Most of our runs are around $95.” According to some of his competitors he has spoken with, not much is happening, at least among smaller operations.

For those working the DNC, making sure they take care of their regular clients at the same time is a major priority. “I continue to tell my staff the DNC is only here for one week, but the customers that have been using us for the past several years are going to be here for the next several years,” says John Donohoe, president of Sterling Limousine. “We’ll certainly have a handful of vehicles we’ll restrict from DNC work to make sure we have enough to accommodate our regular customers.”

John Donohoe, president of Sterling Limousine
John Donohoe, president of Sterling Limousine

Barreto adds, “We service them the same way as when there isn’t a convention going on. Every client who walks through the door is treated as priority number one. A very big caveat at Flyte Tyme is we never say “no” to a customer. We can’t sit there and decline a need for service. We’ll figure out some way, somehow to be able to perform that service.”

Shepich explains Carey International uses predictive analytics by taking data collected during the last five years to figure out travel patterns of its clientele, and then staff appropriately. “We contact a lot of our clients and try to get their reservations in for that week so we can get as close as possible to knowing what the demand will be as early as we can so we can plan accordingly.”

Handling Disruptors

Another aspect of planning goes into figuring out how to navigate around protestors. It’s obvious people feel strongly about this year’s candidates (Democrats and Republicans alike), and that means they will show up in droves with posters and megaphones in tow. Both the RNC and DNC will have designated areas for them to stand, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stay there.

Raymond Gallagher, VP of sales and marketing for Flyte Tyme Worldwide Transportation
Raymond Gallagher, VP of sales and marketing for Flyte Tyme Worldwide Transportation
Gallagher isn’t too worried, though. “It’s easy enough to monitor while it’s happening. They can bring up a protest pretty quickly in an area, but there are only specific areas the authorities will allow protests to happen in. Historically, I think they do a fairly good job containing people to those. We make sure any pick up or drop off location will be on the opposite side or away from that, and monitor the situation as best we can.”

With social media, all it takes is one group to start a Twitter feed giving the location of a protest and within 20 minutes, hundreds of people could show up. “What they’ve planned for and what could actually happen are two different things,” Barretosays. “The police department, federal government and agencies that will be assisting with it are definitely going to have their hands full.”

Shepich adds, “We have folks on the ground around the convention center who will advise us of the best routes. All of our chauffeurs are in contact with our centralized dispatch so if any problems arise, they’ll be able to inform them to use an alternate route.”

TNC Presence

The role of TNCs in conventions with this much security is yet to be known. “I think there’s a lot of speculation as to how they are going to be used,” Barreto says. “According to the Philadelphia parking authority, the only TNC actually legally allowed to be in the city is Uber Black. UberX and Lyft are illegal, yet they are doing thousands of pickups a day.”

The DNC has strongly stated from the beginning it wants to work with regulated companies. They will avoid endorsing companies “in the grey.” It doesn’t look like

TNCs will have much of a chance of getting near the actual arena.

“The Wells Fargo Center will be in a restricted security area and you have to submit for permits and screening to be able to get your vehicles in and out of the area,” Barreto says.

A lack of organization and regulation will more than likely prevent TNCs from running efficiently at such a large event. “Without a centralized plan, it would be [hard] for an individual driver or a company that [lacks] an organized route plan to be able to function around that event. You’re only as good as the person driving the car, and if there isn’t an intelligence network around to feed them that information, there will be difficulties.”

Related Topics: Carey International, Flyte Tyme, ground transportation, Pennsylvania operators, philadelphia, special events, WebXclusive

Lexi Tucker Assistant Editor
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