The annual Limousine Association of New Jersey fundraiser has long served as a role model for industry togetherness.
The bills signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown provide the GCLA with incremental victories while warding off worst-case scenarios regarding rules for transportation network companies (TNC) and limo fleet vehicles.
“Without the endless effort of the GCLA and its board, who knows what bills would have been passed in this fiscal year,” said chief lobbyist Gregg Cook of Government Affairs Consulting, the firm retained by the GCLA. “We did everything we could to rein in the TNCs. The legislature has focused on the safety of California’s traveling public, whether it be in buses, sedans, or limousines, and the services provided by TNCs and charter party carriers (TCPs).”
The veteran lobbyist and longtime GCLA advocate has noticed a greater willingness among state legislators to scrutinize and regulate TNCs since the state government first started grappling with this new form of ground transportation four years ago. Gone are the days when so many legislators were reflexively enthusiastic of the brash state-based start-ups.
“The legislature began to take a look at the industry and anything having to do with enhanced technology, whether rideshare, spaceships, or Airbnb,” Cook said. “People were falling all over themselves to support them because we are in California. But when violations affect public safety, the legislature is motivated to take a closer look.”
Driver background checks
AB 1289, sponsored by Assembly Member Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, requires TNCs to conduct background checks and penalizes them for not doing so. This was a huge lobbying effort for the GCLA. The money and resources of the GCLA members have put another bump in the TNC’s road. “Either get legal or get off the road” will be the GCLA motto throughout the year until TNCs follow the same guidelines as the TCP operators.
“We have worked very diligently to try to require all charter party carriers, TNCs or TCPs, to do criminal background checks through the DOJ,” Cook told LCT. “Those efforts have failed. However, we were successful in working with Cooper to require TNCs conduct background checks as required by the California Public Utilities Commission, and if they fail to do so, they can be penalized up to $5,000 per violation.”
Cook pointed out the constant barrage of media coverage on bad behavior among TNC drivers. “Cooper’s bill will get the attention of the TNCs in that they better start paying attention to this stuff,” he said. “It’s a very critical piece of legislation.
“We are chipping away. The CPUC has had three to four years of hearings on TNCs regulations and it’s continuing and they have required background checks now by law. We’ve taken the first step in that they can be penalized up to $5,000.”
The CPUC also requires safety checks on TNC vehicles in another step toward parity with charter party carriers. “We are not opposing their business model,” Cook said. “But we oppose anything that puts the California traveling public at risk. Now the legislature is stepping up and saying we have to codify this stuff."
SB 247, sponsored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-33rd District. The bus safety bill requires buses seating 39 or more passengers to provide safety announcement and have installed lighted emergency information. This was a huge win for the GCLA. Lara allowed the GCLA to be part of the authoring of the bill and how it read. It would have affected every limousine and bus with 10 or more passengers. It now only applies to the larger mid-coaches and motorcoaches buses.
“With the definition of a bus carrying 10 or more passengers, many of our stretches and stretched vans and Hummers would have qualified like buses,” Cook said. “But a GCLA amendment made it 39 and up to protect limo vehicles. Operators would have had to retrofit all vehicles.”
Tour bus inspection fees
AB 1677, sponsored by Assembly Member Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. This bill allows cities to request safety inspection of tour buses by the CHP. The city pays the cost of the inspection. The GCLA supported this bill so it would allow cities to more closely monitor possible illegal operators, and would give them authority to ask for immediate inspections on vehicles believed to be operating illegally.
“Today when a TCP company registers its vehicles, they pay a $15 surcharge to the DMV that goes to the CHP for inspections, established in the 1980s,” Cook explained. “But the CHP cannot afford to inspect vehicles at $15 a pop. As a result, CHP is working arduously to raise that $15, coming in with a $300 estimated cost for an inspection.”
Regardless of the eventual fee cost, operators are not on the hook for it. However, the legislation, although targeted toward the open-air movie-star oriented and sightseeing tour buses, does not technically define a tour bus. “A city could ask the CHP to inspect tour buses for safety at any time, but the safety fee must be paid by the city.”
Stretch limousine retrofits
SB 812, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo. This measure extends the date for the modification of stretched limousines to include two pop-out windows to January 2018. The GCLA has worked extensively to modify this bill. It initially would have cost limo operators anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 in modifications had the GCLA not lobbied to tone it down. It would have put small operators out of business and taken 70% of the stretched limos off the road in California. The GCLA still plans to work on this issue, but has bought valuable time.
Limo operators with five-door stretch limousines and/or roof escape hatches do not need the two pop-out windows.
Driver blood alcohol levels
AB 2687, sponsored by Assembly Member Katcho Achadjian, R-Arroyo Grande. This bill allows only a maximum 0.04 alcohol level for drivers of for-hire passenger vehicles. The GCLA was also a big supporter of this bill to make sure TNC vehicles join the ground transportation services that assure safe travels. The duty of care provided by chauffeured services is not affected since the industry prohibits alcohol consumption by on-duty chauffeurs.
“The TNCs had to rollover on these bills (DUI and background checks) because it was too obvious what was going on,” Cook said. “The TNCs did not strenuously oppose Cooper’s and Achadjian’s bills. The writing is on the wall.”
Looking ahead to the 2017 legislative session, Cook was scheduled to meet this week GCLA board members David Kinney and Christopher Quinn, two Sacramento-area operators who serve as the group’s legislative co-chairs. High on the GCLA agenda is requiring Department of Justice fingerprint background checks, considered the most thorough vetting for safe drivers.
The first Assembly Member to advocate for TNC fingerprint background checks, Adrin Nazarian, D-Van Nuys, has spearheaded rules and legislation helpful to the state’s limousine industry, Cook said. “Nazarian was very tough trying to require the DOJ checks, and he did get through required safety inspections for TNC vehicles. But he was ahead of the CPUC on this, and because it was early in the process, the TNCs could kill his legislation. It was a bit premature for the CPUC, and California legislators were still enamored of TNCs.”
Related Topics: alcoholic beverages, background checks, California operators, California Public Utilities Commission, driver behavior, driver safety, GCLA, Greater California Livery Association, Gregg Cook, industry politics, legislation, lobbying, regulatory enforcement, Safety, stretch limousine, tour buses
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