Be careful how your company presents and implements a “Zero Tolerance” policy.
[Updated 2/27/19 1:30 p.m. ET with new information from LILA and LBTOUNY]
Operators in one of the biggest market for stretch limousine service will get to keep the vehicles that keep them in business.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Feb. 21 he will drop a ban on stretch limousines and modified vehicles in his 2019-2020 state budget plan.
Other new rules remain in place, but at least the most controversial and harmful action has been removed, said Long Island operator Doug Schwartz, president of the Long Island Transportation Association and a board director of the National Limousine Association.
Schwartz and Buffalo, N.Y.-area operator Kevin Barwell, the president of the Limousine Bus Taxi Operators of Upstate New York (LBTOUNY), had traveled to the State Capitol in Albany on Jan. 30 to testify against the ban before the Joint Legislative Public Hearing on the 2019-2020 Executive Budget.
They were joined by Long Island Limousine Association President Penny Casey and board directors Charles Gandolfo and Steve Showtime who visited and communicated with numerous state legislators to lobby against the measure. While they didn't speak before the panel, Casey and Gandolfo submitted testimonies that were circulated to legislators holding the hearing that day.
“There was a lot of pressure from many different places,” Schwartz told LCT. "Our attitude was to give to get and we agreed to some of the things in the bill if they gave us stretch limousines.”
Before the hearing, the NLA held a conference call with LITA, LILA, and LBTOUNY representaives to help advise them on the direction of their testimony. Fleet vehicle dealer David Bastian, commercial sales manager for Towne Livery in Orchard Park and a member of (LBTOUNY), also prepared a memo of opposition that was distributed to State Senators, Assembly members, and business groups.
"If we got the stretch limo saved, it would be a win-win for the industry," Schwartz said. "Everything now stays in place as it is."
The withdrawal of the stretch limousine ban spared LILA's 100 member companies and other statewide operators the catastrophic economic losses that could have resulted from sidelining their stretch limousines, Casey said. She estimated that LILA members alone run about 500+ stretch limousines all across the New York metro area.
"We met every day to speak to different people," she said of LILA efforts. "Just because the ban is lifted does not mean we’re going to stop."
To help build momentum against the ban, Casey reached out and got the 1,600- member New York State Funeral Directors Association (NYFDA) to join forces with LILA. Groups representing other modified commercial vehicle users, such as ambulances, stepped up to oppose the measure as well.
New York limousine industry groups and operators would still like to see other proposals in the budget plan either eliminated or changed, such as a $120 per vehicle inspection fee twice a year for fleet vehicles, and big increases in fines for violations.
Casey told LCT on Feb. 27 work remains to be done on either modifying or eliminating those provisions that hit operators with what amounts to semi-annual inspection fees that amount to $240 per vehicle. Since the Jan. 30 hearing, she and her two fellow board directors have met with Cuomo's office and the New York Department of Transportation to remove these proposals.
"We will now be fighting for our members for these $120 fees the DOT wants to impose on limousine and buses," Casey said.
In addition, LILA and LBTOUNY would like to change a proposed commerical drivers license (CDL) requirement changed from applying to vehicles carrying eight or more passengers to those carrying nine passengers or more to match the federal law.
"We're all in favor of everything else," Casey said of the list of safety rules recommended in the budget proposal. "We fight for safety. We also need better communication with the DOT and DMV with inspecdtions on these vehicles. They agreed there must be a better system."
Meanwhile, members from LBTOUNY met with New York Assemblyman William Magnarelli, D-Syrancuse, Chairman of the Assembly Committee On Transportation, on Feb. 25 to discuss the now rescinded ban on limousines and new proposed legislation in response to the tragic limousine accident on Oct. 6, 2018 in Schoharie, N.Y., that killed 20 people. The vehicle in the accident was not up to state DOT standards and the operator had numerous violations as well. Group members also met on Feb. 19 with Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo, who chairs the Senate Committee On Transportation.
"Although this is a good thing for legitimate operators, we know the battle is not over, just delayed," LBTOUNY said in a statement. "The discussion now moves towards detailing the regulations placed on stretch vehicles, including seat belts, fines/penalties for non-compliant operators, and laws pertaining to the vehicles inspection. Their hope was to speak up for legitimate operators who follow the law and correct procedures."
In an interview with LCT, LBTOUNY board director David Brown, owner of Premier Transportation in Albany, warned the stretch limousine ban could come back in another form of legislation. Atlhough no bills have been formally filed and sponsored, drafts are circulating among legislators, he said.
"Just because it’s out of the budget, doesn’t mean it won’t be addressed," Brown said. "We still have a battle to fight. It’s just been delayed. The Governor is still putting pressure on the legislature to look at new laws. Many Assembly people and Senators are coming up with their own bills, and Assemblyman Magnarelli told us he is getting inundated with proposed bills."
Another proposal of major consequence to operators is a requirement to retrofit all buses, vans, and limousines with seatbelts, which Brown estimates could cost $15,000 to $20,000 for a 57-passenger bus and $8,000 to $9,000 for a 30-passenger minibus.
"Vehicles need a pull test because you can’t just throw seat belts into vehicles," Brown said. "We brought up these concerns. It's a monetary problem and a logistical problem."
As a compromise, Brown said LBTOUNY would support a measure to grandfather existing buses without seatbelts and require all new ones to be bought with seatbelts already installed.
State legislators also are expected to consider vehicle age or mileage limits on limousines, buses, and vans, which is a matter for debate among operators with varying fleet sizes and vehicle model mixes. Smaller operations gearted toward retail and leisure weekend work often prefer to buy used stretches and minibuses.
Brown emphasized that legal, legitimate, licensed operators advocate for strong safety measures, and welcome reasonable regulations that ensure level competition.
"We have to try to protect everybody in the association, keeping safety in mind,” Brown said. "We're trying to support laws that will be fair to everyone."
MORE DETAILS: Albany Times Union article here
Related article: Stretch Ban Among Long List Of Safety Reforms
Related Topics: custom limousines, David Bastian, Doug Schwartz, Kevin Barwell, LBTOUNY, legislation, limo associations, limo crashes, lobbying, long island limousine association, National Limousine Association, New York operators, passenger safety, regulatory enforcement, retail markets, state regulations, stretch limousine
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