MLOA Features Panel Discussion at Show Meeting
The annual Association Summit at The Limo Digest Show consistently draws a large crowd. This year was no different as nearly 150 attended the event en masse. In addition, more association presidents and board members were there than ever before. It was a clear sign that associations are still one of the driving forces of the industry and major champions working on behalf of all operators.
This year’s Summit—once again sponsored by The Hudson Group—had a heavy-hitting agenda and panelists Mark Stewart, president of the Greater California Livery Association (GCLA), and Tim Rose, president of the Limousine Association of New Jersey (LANJ), were well-versed in each of the topics, including airport regulations, labor lawsuits, and the emergence of smartphone apps for the livery industry (like Uber).
Stewart began the Summit with an update on California’s proposed airport regulations that would impose strict and unrealistic MPG standards on livery vehicles servicing the airports. The GCLA has been fighting this issue for a number of years and has had some success in holding the airport authorities off on implementing these rules. Through meetings with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the GCLA has educated regulators about the vehicles that are available to chauffeured transportation companies—none of which meet these proposed standards.
The next topic discussed was the rampant labor lawsuits impacting the industry. Rose and Stewart explained that many of the lawsuits stem from companies misclassifying employees now and in the past. This leads to employees looking for back wages and employers facing fines or settlements for their oversights. While Rose and Stewart both use employees, they understand that the independent contractor (IC) model is feasible in some markets. However, with the current administration, those using ICs can expect increased scrutiny and should make sure there is no way that the ICs could be considered employees in the eyes of the government.
Guest speaker Al LaGasse, CEO of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA), lent some perspective from what his association is seeing. He says ICs are viewed negatively on the Federal level and he doesn’t see that changing. “It is best to have an attorney look at your business and see if you’re truly abiding by the laws,” he says. “Either you pay an attorney that fee or you risk paying a settlement on a lawsuit.” Later that week at the State of the Industry, panelists from some of the industry’s largest companies remarked that affiliate networks may begin to select only those affiliates using the employee model, putting the pressure on many with ICs to reconsider.
The biggest topic of the day was the debate about Uber and other “rogue” smartphone apps. These apps are seen by many as rogue due to the fact that there is no way to ensure that the vehicles and the people driving them are licensed, regulated, and insured at the levels required of all livery vehicles in various markets. Matt Daus, president of the Coalition of Transportation Associations (COTA), was another guest speaker at the Summit and brought in-depth knowledge about the topic.
Daus says Uber—the biggest on-demand livery app—is building up its limousine business, enticing chauffeurs to leave their current jobs and commit to Uber. “Not only that, but if a chauffeur leaves, and he was your client’s favorite, where do you think your client is going to think about going? Especially once he hears the low rate Uber charges,” says Daus. “Uber is as rogue as they come as far as exploiting loopholes.” The panel added that limousine operators who are working with Uber are only hurting themselves and others in their market.
LaGasse stressed that the industry needs to pay attention to how Uber is using technology to gain market share. “There is a lot of emphasis put on social media, and they are using Twitter to drum up support when cities start to enforce regulations on Uber,” he says. “The limousine industry needs to create its own apps in order to compete.”
During the Q&A, many operators in the audience revealed that they did not know about Uber and the threat it poses on the industry but were thankful for the information. It’s surely a conversation that is going to continue on the local and regional association level as more cities are faced with Uber. Overall, operators agree that their goal is not to put Uber out of business, but to bring it to a level and fully legal playing field.