The Greater California Livery Association will host events in Napa, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
It was a tough call given the emotional testimony from the family members of victims in two high-profile stretch crashes that have spurred more focus on and regulation of the stretch limousine business: The Oct. 6, 2018 crash in Schoharie that killed 20 people, and the July 18, 2015 crash on Long Island that killed four young women in a bachelorette party.
Family members and the association leaders spoke during a hearing on limousine and bus safety before the Senate Standing Committee On Transportation chaired by Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo-Lackawanna.
Among the industry association leaders who gave testimony and/or attended were David Brown, president of Premiere Transportation in Albany and a board director for the Limousine Bus and Taxi Operators of Upstate New York (LBTOUNY); Kevin Barwell, LBTOUNY president and owner of Giorgio’s Limousine Service in Buffalo; David Bastian, commercial sales manager at Towne Livery in Orchard Park and LBTOUNTY legislative director; Charles Gandolfo, a board director for the Long Island Limousine Association (LILA) and owner of Dynasty Limousine in Babylon; and John Khader, owner of Top Class Limo in Yonkers.
“What’s concerned me is we are one of the most regulated states in the country, and one of the most regulated countries in the world, and they want to regulate us even more,” Brown told LCT, recapping his testimony. Brown’s company runs 50+ chauffeured vehicles ranging from sedans to coaches. “The families of victims in both crashes gave personal stories and the Senators on the committee swore to them there would be sweeping changes throughout the industry. My concern is let’s please not penalize the 99.9% good guys who are doing things by the book.”
“We shouldn't have to suffer the consequences of stricter laws than we already have,” Gandolfo told LCT.
Brown explained to the Senators how the Oct. 6 crash resulted from a long thread of miscommunication among the New York Department of Transportation, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, the New York State Police, an administrative court, and vehicle inspection stations.
“If they had better communication, the SUV (stretch) in the Schoharie crash would not have been registered wrong,” Brown said. “It went from being a licensed bus with the same VIN number to a licensed limousine. The previous owner, Advantage Transportation, had it registered as a bus. The new guy (Prestige Limousine) registered it as a livery vehicle. The DMV should have seen the VIN number was registered as a bus, not as an eight passenger car.”
As a result, the stretch was inspected at a retail shop instead of a DOT station, Brown said. Furthermore, Prestige was convicted in April 2018 for failure to appear before a New York state administrative law judge for violations of state transportation laws. The company was fined. “Right there, six months before the accident, the state had the right to take the plates and they did nothing about it,” Brown said. “The plates could have been seized and the limousine taken off the road."
“Prestige set off numerous bells and whistles before the Oct. 6 accident,” he added. “They were on everyone’s radar, but no one acted until it was too late. Because of this lack of communication among all these agencies, a bad guy got through, and by him getting through, now the state is going to penalize all the good guys. This tragedy should and could have been avoided.”
Brown cited the fact about 60 stretch limousines immediately had their plates seized in the aftermath of the crash. “They had the authority back then to take the plates of these super-stretch SUVs that were illegally registered.”
The associations oppose the more costly and unreasonable measures, such as requiring an additional $1.5 million in uninsured motorists coverage for limousine operations. Brown, for example, carries a $5 million umbrella policy already, and many operators have policies with the required $1.5 million in standard insurance coverage that was passed recently and goes into effect at the end of the year.
“If I have $5 million in complete coverage already, why do I have to get more? That’s insane,” Brown said. Most legitimate New York limousine operations have $1.5 million to $5 million in coverage.
Gandolfo said the high level of uninsured motorist coverage would be hard to come by among insurers in the state of New York.
The associations also object to rules that would require roof hatches and escape windows, which Gandolfo called impractical. California legislators approved such measures in the wake of a May 4, 2013 limousine fire in San Mateo that killed five women in a bachelorette party, although enforcement of the laws was delayed four years. As a result, California operators have either sold off many of their stretch limousines, or been forced to buy new ones that meet the requirements, since retrofits are expensive.
“Both the Long Island and Schoharie accident victims would not have been saved by emergency hatches and escape windows,” Brown said. “Every limo I have has a fifth door. That is a great option.”
Brown also dismissed a proposed requirement for airbags in stretch limousine passenger compartments as impossible to engineer. “There are too many complications,” he said. As LCT has reported previously, manufacturers would have to invest millions in the design, engineering, and testing of airbags that could only be tailored to each individual stretch limousine make, model and build, since such airbags are not one-type-size-fits-all.
While the leaders objected to the burdensome regulations, they generally agreed with those that would advance safety and common sense. Brown and Gandolfo do not oppose seatbelt requirements in stretch limousines that Brown suggests could be phased in over time after grandfathering current stretch limousines for a defined period. They also support a ban on stretch limousine U-turns; higher fines and penalties for illegal operators; vehicle inspections; driver drug testing, DMV, and criminal background checks; and state registries of compliant companies that are legal and in good standing.
“In my testimony and that of others, we agreed all drivers for hire, including those for TNCs, must be drug tested and fully background checked, no excuses,” Gandolfo said. “We all agree there should be stiff penalties on fraudulent companies.”
Related article: Families Of Limo Crashes Speak At Hearing
As Brown pointed out, the legal, legitimate limousine operations already follow many of the above practices.
The next step will be for the Senate and Assembly to devise a set of proposed limousine regulations in one bill, Brown said, considering input from the hearing.
State legislators avoided banning stretch limousines as was first proposed in the original 2020 state budget draft, but Brown warns partial bans for particular stretch models could still arise.
“The Governor (Andrew Cuomo) already enacted fines, penalties, and regulations into budgets concerning limos,” Brown said. “Some were good, some bad. Instead of going back and saying ‘let’s have hearings,’ the Governor pulled a fast one. He first took them all out of the budget, and then put them back in three days before the budget passed on March 31. The budget should not concern limousine laws. Now we have even more regulations and penalties going through. There has to be give and take.”
Related Topics: accident reduction, accidents, custom stretches, David Bastian, LBTOUNY, legislation, limo associations, limo crashes, long island limousine association, New York operators, New York state regulations, passenger safety, regulatory enforcement, state regulations, stretch limousine
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