Friday, April 26, 2019

President Kevin Barwell of Giorgio's Limousine Service Buffalo, N.Y. — As New York state grapples with the looming potential for a statewide ban on limousines, operators in The Empire State’s upstate wine country are especially concerned.

Limousine, Bus and Taxi Operators of Upstate New York (LBTOUNY) President Kevin Barwell of Giorgio’s Limousine Service says that in a market where the limousine is still more hotly in demand than the sedans, SUVs, executive vans, and coaches that enjoy increasing popularity, this law could very well be a death knell for numerous operators—and a headache for customers who have already booked their special-event transportation.

“I’ve had operators calling me and saying, ‘What are we going to do? I’m going to be out of business.’ And as LBTOUNY president, I have to look out for them. These companies are basically looking at going bankrupt: You can’t sell these vehicles in the state that banned them, so you hope someone elsewhere buys them—and then you have the financial cost of switching your whole fleet over. But people are not going to rent a limobus for five people on a wine tour, especially when they wanted to arrive in a limousine.” he said. “What do we tell brides who have had vehicles booked for months: ‘Sorry, we have to cancel your wedding transportation.’”

According to Barwell, the region is already besieged by regulatory and financial hurdles that have presented mounting challenges to his and his local peers’ businesses, and has been for the past few years. LBTOUNY and upstate operators have been not only shouldering a state tax that “transportation gets double-taxed for” but also facing an up-and-down TNC scene that once included a ban on the likes of Uber and Lyft. Barwell believes this latest development could be what finally drives some long-suffering operators to shutter their companies.

And he believes that a ban “regulating upstate New York like it’s the major metropolitan area that New York City is” could have potentially fatal consequences, too.

“In the upstate area, you still have a lot of companies that are limousine based. They have a lot of limousines, stretch limousines, and stretch SUVs that might now be taken off the road. So companies either have to start using buses—or people going on wine tours will start driving themselves, so we’ll see more drunk drivers,” Barwell said. “The real problem is that the governor is treating upstate New York like New York City instead of focusing on the increased problems we’ll have as the result of a limousine ban. They’re two completely different things: Here, you still have companies whose entire fleets are nothing but limousines—unlike the sedans and SUVs of New York City.”

The suggested ban is a reaction to the October 2018 crash in New York, where a vehicle that has been revealed to be non-road-worthy malfunctioned in a tragedy that claimed 20 lives. Barwell and LBTOUNY, much like most of the nationwide industry, feel that a ban targeting stretched vehicles misses the point—especially when it punishes legally operating companies that strive for compliance, rather than the fly-by-night companies running old, unsafe vehicles that have failed Department of Transportation (DOT) inspection.

“For me, it doesn’t make sense to ban stretched vehicles when the real problem is someone skirting the already-strict regulations that are in place to protect not only our passengers but also operators,” he said. “We have enough regulations, and most of us know that there’s no benefit to going around them. The rules we have in place are fine—but what do you do when someone peels off their ‘Out of Service’ sticker?”

The association has been and will continue to be vocal opponents of the proposed ban. Barwell says that LBTOUNY director David Bastian of Towne Livery has already started advocating for LBTOUNY and New York operators, and that he himself is ensuring that the association keeps this issue at the forefront of local politics.

Part of the problem, Barwell says, is that new proposals that would result in sweeping changes to an industry rarely include the perspectives and practical concerns of those who understand it best—and stand to be affected the most.

“They won’t include anyone from the industry in these conversations,” he said. “My phone hasn’t rung, and it’s like—why aren’t you talking to the people who are most knowledgeable in what needs to change to come up with a real solution? This is like going to pizzerias and telling them they can’t have pizza ovens anymore. They need to talk to an upstate operator face-to-face to understand the consequences. Otherwise, we have to fight this and move forward with defending ourselves.”

Anyone who wishes to make their voice heard as an industry peer or as an affiliate should reach out to the office of Governor Andrew Cuomo to express their concerns as a livery expert. 

Visit lbtony.com for more information. 

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