BY MADELEINE MACCAROn January 20, 2017, the nation watched as Donald Trump was sworn in as America’s 45th president. What all those eyes didn’t see, however, was the behind-the-scenes madness deftly navigated by the chauffeured transportation industry as it does with any event drawing a massive crowd—especially when that event captures international attention, features an array of highly visible guests, and calls for increased safety precautions.
To further complicate matters, this year’s inauguration was flanked by protests, both in the middle and on the heels of the typical every-four-years fanfare—which, while presenting an additional revenue stream to accommodate an unusual influx of D.C.-bound passengers, also created an additional hurdle for transporting VIPs, curious onlookers, and history junkies alike from point A to point B. But while the country may draw dividing lines amongst itself, transportation operators simply embrace the opportunity to do some extra business.
While an inauguration follows the general logistics of a group move, the increased security, rerouted traffic, and oceans of ramped-up foot traffic all present a whole new crop of challenges in navigating the nation’s capital, as do inevitable changes in procedures from four years prior.
Because of the known protests, we were aware there would be a lot of security issues ... With the information we gathered as an association, we probably had the most information of all the surrounding states.”
– Paul Walsh of Superior Executive Transportation
Luckily, the Virginia Limousine Association (VLA) had been preparing its members for the inauguration as far back as its October meeting at the Chauffeur Driven Show. President Paul Walsh of Superior Executive Transportation said that VLA members had everything from sedans to buses on the road, with “cars seeming to come out of the woodwork because it’s such a big event.”
“We spent a whole meeting talking about inauguration preparations when we met at the Chauffeur Driven Show in D.C.: A good deal of time was focused on the information we had then,” he says. “The problem with inaugurations is that, because they only happen every four years, it seems like it’s always a different procedure with different sets of challenges.”
With President Trump being an admittedly polarizing figure, the intense security precautions necessary to provide him more-than-adequate protection were dialed up even more so than the “extremely tight security” Walsh says the operators faced during both of President Obama’s inaugurations.
“Because of the known protests, we were aware there would be a lot of security issues,” Walsh adds, explaining that the D.C. For-Hire Agency, Metropolitan Airport Authority, and DMV Enforcement Agency of Northern Virginia sent representatives to VLA’s pre-election meetings to ensure that all operators working the event were fully updated on how to proceed with Inauguration Day festivities. “With the information we gathered as an association, we probably had the most information of all the surrounding states.”
When showtime rolled around in the midst of the day’s predawn hours, despite widespread media predictions of a chaotic event and isolated incidents that escalated beyond anyone’s control, operators were pleasantly surprised to find that the day was, indeed, business as usual.
“Something out of the ordinary always happens, but we’ve been doing inaugurations for long enough that we’re ready for everything we possibly can be,” says Robert Alexander of Maryland’s RMA Worldwide. “We always account for additional travel times, make sure our chauffeurs have an escape plan ready to ensure their and our passengers’ safety, and rely on previous experience to as smoothly as any other big event.”
RMA not only had metal on the road throughout the inauguration itself but also during the Women’s March on Washington, D.C.; with the latter drawing more than 470,000 protestors to the capital, operators from all over the Middle Atlantic and Northeast regions also benefited from the 2017-specific boons to their bottom lines in the shape of traveling protestors. Despite the highly publicized riots that cast a pall on the mid-January goings-on, both Alexander and Ron Robinson of Pennsylvania’s Sterling Limousine reported that transporting those attending the January 21 protests were surprisingly pleasant and mostly routine group moves.
“We instructed our chauffeurs to get to safety if anything should happen, but they essentially drove a van and a bus full of very polite pink-hatted women to D.C. and then slept until it was time to go home,” Robinson says.
Something out of the ordinary always happens, but we’ve been doing inaugurations for long enough that we’re ready for everything we possibly can be.”
– Robert Alexander of RMA Worldwide
Robinson goes on to describe a well-organized scene for transportation company—but utter havoc for those whose daily business was interrupted by the pomp of the day.
“It was very uneventful for us—most of the areas were cordoned off so we could drop off our passengers and then park the vehicles, all safe and sound,” he said. “But we did have regular corporate clients trying to go about their business and just pulling their hair out because you couldn’t move two inches in all that traffic.”
With changing times and four years separating each one, every inauguration comes with a new lesson in precaution; unfortunately, 2017’s came at the cost of Nationwide Chauffeured Service’s MKT limousine, which put the transportation industry front and center as a symbol of the inauguration riots. As the industry soon learned, vandalization incurred during riots isn’t always covered by insurance providers, leaving an out-of-luck operator scrambling to foot a hefty repair or replacement bill—and a ripple effect through the industry as companies assured that their own houses were in order.
But as anyone who’s familiar with this industry knows, what was a potentially business-shuttering tragedy for one company turned into a call to arms for operators across the country.
Nearly as soon as it was revealed that Nationwide’s vehicle was the target of rioters’ ire, a GoFundMe account to help pay the more than $70,000 in damages emerged, amassing $30,247 in donations in less than a month—thoroughly trouncing the original $20,000 goal in a show of solidarity.
Nationwide’s president Muhammad Ashraf has never met Mike and Marlo Denning of Elegant Limousines & Wedding Services, the Florida operators who established the account, nor does he know most of the 954 donors who rushed to his aid, but the immigrant operator who worked to not only establish but also build up his 20-year-old company in the metropolitan area is absolutely floored by the outpouring of support he received.
“The rioters who injured my chauffeur and destroyed my car affected the livelihood of an immigrant they claim to care about,” Ashraf said. “I am so grateful that people I don’t even know but just share an industry with, without hesitation, showed me that they’re the ones who care that I stay in business.”
Ashraf is still working with his insurance company in the wake of the MKT fire, but takes heart in knowing that even in times where “us” and “them” seem to be resolute dividing lines, he can disagree with the policies that President Trump and his most passionate supporters espouse while still finding solidarity with the industry that always puts people first. But as he marveled: “I had to face a huge setback to find out what a big family this industry is.” [CD0317]