TNCs appear to avoid following safety recalls on vehicles used by their drivers.
[UPDATED 9/1/17: 2 p.m. CT]
DALLAS — Bus and chauffeured vehicle operators from Texas and beyond are sending all types of buses to the Houston area to help out in any way needed as the nation’s fourth largest city starts the long-term logistical challenge of the aftermath. Houston operators, many of whom took precautions to protect their fleets, are running 24/7 putting their vehicles into service.
From evacuations of residents out of the region to regular runs of emergency workers into it, operators are working hard to support emergency management efforts and assist fellow citizens.
[UPDATE: 9/1/17: One of the largest chauffeured and motorcoach fleets in Houston and Dallas, AFC Transportation and Echo Transportation, owned by TBL Group Inc., was deploying its combined 100+ motorcoach fleet to help with evacuations and any transportation needed by the Federal Emergency Management Association, CEO John Ferrari told LCT.
"We're evacuating people to shelters and getting others out of the city as well so they can go to a hotel where they can sleep on a bed instead of a hard floor," Ferrari said. "We're working hard to help everybody. There are still so many stranded in homes or they don’t have homes to go to. Evacuations will be going on for many more days."
AFC Transportaton, headquartered a few miles north of the George H.W. Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport, was not flooded during the storm and never lost power. But all nearby roads were inundated except for one, allowing the company in and out access. Fortunately, they had the foresight to move about 100 vehicles, about 70% of its Houston fleet, to Dallas 250 miles away before the storm, and put drivers and staff into hotels. "We didn't know the full severity of it," Ferrari said. After the worst passed, "we received calls from everywhere and started deploying out right away," moving buses and vehicles back toward Houston, he said.
Friday marked the first day the company was back at full operations with most 500+ employees pitching in, Ferrari said. Statewide, the operation runs more than 300 vehicles, including out of facilities in Tyler, Austin, and San Antonio. "All of our coaches and buses are gone and out, with only a few school buses left." AFC/Echo and other local chauffeured and bus operations are also helping with transportation requests through the Houston Area Livery and Charter Association, the trade group for Houston area operators.
"This is the worst flood I've ever seen in my life, a 1,000 year flood," Ferrari said. "It's just crazy the amount of water dumped in just a few days. We're here to help anybody who needs it. At times like this we have to stick together even more than normal."
“We did take a minimal number of people from Corpus Christi and Port Aransas to get them out of the way of the storm,” Wynne said.
The record-setting floods from the Category 4 hurricane have sent a shock throughout the region’s ground transportation system with so many interstates, roads, and bridges out of commission. Wynne Transportation had to pick up the Houston Texans team at the Dallas Ft. Worth airport and take them to area hotels because their flight got diverted from Houston following a game in New Orleans. The Houston Astros were diverted as well.
“The problem is from the epicenter of the storm to Corpus Christi to beyond the east side of Houston which is a range of 400-plus miles devastated by winds and bands of rain,” Wynne told LCT. “It’s massive, unprecedented flooding.”
In a sign of many such movements to come, Wynne also is deploying minibuses to help a Houston-area corporation relocate all of its employees and operations to Austin, given the months-to-years along recovery expected.
A Wichita company has sent some of its people and equipment to Texas in order to help with evacuations. Article here
At Premier Transportation, another leading Dallas-area limousine and bus operation, owner Eric Devlin was working on two fronts: Providing motorcoaches and coordinating charity relief efforts. Premier has been contracted by local fire departments outside of Texas for five motorcoaches to transport firefighters, EMT, and first responder personnel from DFW to the Houston area in coming weeks.
Among items Premier is collecting: Water, Gatorade, etc., canned goods and non-perishable food items; towels, pillows, blankets, sheets, etc.; toiletries, diapers, and medical supplies; and lightly worn clothes, shoes, etc.
Devlin also has set up an arrangement for industry operators to make credit card-for-cash donations via Premier’s processing system which will help fund relief efforts. The company will use the donations to buy supplies. It will fully account for donations and issue letters to donors verifying the amounts for tax deductions purposes. Tony Simon, COO of Reston Limousine in Dulles, Va., was the first donor on behalf of his company. Donations link here
[LCT has reached out to several Houston-area operators and will update this article as warranted].
Rachid Ben, owner of Aviation Limousine & Transportation in Houston, was one of many operators in the area affected by the catastrophe. “We are just waiting for things to calm down. About 95% of my trips for next week are cancelled. A few of my chauffeurs have lost their homes. But the situation is not about us, it’s about everybody in the city of Houston. I don’t want to make things sound more dramatic than they already are, but my wife is due to have our second child on Sep. 2. Thankfully, we only lost two cars and the rest are unaffected. As long as nothing happens to me or my family, we can replace anything else. We’re still in shock, but every time something like this happens, we learn it’s not about us as individuals; it’ s about everyone who is impacted.”
DONATE: Two associations have set up Go Fund Me accounts to collect contributions:
National Limousine Association: Go Fund Me NLA Hurricane Harvey
Houston Area Livery and Charter Association: Go Fund Me Help Houston Flood Victims
In a statement issued Aug. 30 at 3:35 p.m. ET, NLA President Gary Buffo said: “On behalf of the entire NLA leadership, our thoughts are with those affected by this disaster. By coordinating efforts to raise money for NLA member operators that have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey, the NLA is fulfilling its purpose to unite peers in a powerful way by pooling resources. The NLA is simply serving as a conduit. It’s the members and their generosity that constantly amaze me. In times like these I am reminded just how close of a community we really are and how proud I am to be a part of it.”
Texans already are making sacrifices and coming through with all kinds of help and efforts.
One Dallas-area resident bought $2,000 worth of new merchandise, such as clothes, blankets, and towels, at a T.J. Maxx and dropped it off at the Premier warehouse, Devlin said. Meanwhile, I-45 is jammed with pick-up trucks, boats, and trailers waiting to get into Houston to help.
Wynne reported as of Tuesday, his drivers have not left their motorcoaches while waiting on standby. “Housing is limited, and food and hotels are hard to come by. They’ve been sleeping on the buses. They’re very tough and have stood up to the challenge to help out their fellow Texans very admirably. We’re very proud of the response from FEMA.”
LCT assistant editor Lexi Tucker contributed to this article.
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