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The party limousine should not have become a hearse: Phillip Morris

October 10, 2018

The party limousine should not have become a hearse: Phillip Morris

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Chuck Thomas, the owner of Prestige Limousine Service in Rochester, New York, woke up to a crisis communication nightmare Sunday morning.

A national Sunday morning TV news show was reporting that his company was involved in a fatal limousine crash that claimed the lives of 20 people Saturday afternoon. The news program included an image of his 50-year-old limo company’s business website as part of its coverage. There was one major problem: the news program identified the wrong Prestige Limousine.

The transportation company involved in the fatal crash, which also calls itself Prestige Limousine, operates out of a low-budget hotel in upstate New York, has no discernable website, and is well-known to state transportation safety officials for all the wrong reasons.

Thomas, recognizing the crisis he had on his hands, sprang into action. He signed a message that was posted to the homepage of his company’s website:

“Neither our vehicles and nor our drivers were involved in this incident. The information as to the correct ownership of the vehicle in question could have easily been verified before this destructive story was broadcast.”

“I am proud of the fifty years of safe, reliable and professional service we have provided our customers. We follow all applicable rules and regulations, have in place all necessary insurance, thoroughly train our drivers and regularly inspect and maintain our fleet of vehicles,” the statement read in part.

The response of Thomas to defend his company may prove effective. I’m a huge fan of crisis communications and those who do it well. These tense messaging occasions represent the moment of truth when reputations are either salvaged or hopelessly shredded.

However, I’m left with this disconcerting question in the wake of the limousine carnage:

How safely is the public served by those whom we trust with our ground transportation needs?

As the use of private rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft continue to grow in popularity, how can we constantly be reassured that the vehicles and motorists we entrust to transport us are any more safe and better regulated than the infamous New York limousine?

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo told reporters that the limo involved in the accident had recently failed an inspection and should not have been on the road. Furthermore, the driver, who died in the accident, did not have a proper license to operate the vehicle. The New York Times also reports that the company had failed multiple inspections in recent months and was involved in a scheme to illegally obtain driver’s licenses.

This leads to an additional question. Namely, how many more drivers are involved in the rideshare or chauffeuring business who potentially put the public at undue risk because of faulty vehicles or poorly vetted backgrounds?

I’m a fairly frequent user of rideshare services. These modern transportation companies have disrupted the taxi industry and made some forms of local travel more convenient and less expensive. Still, I can’t help but recall a CNN report this past summer that highlighted the intense lobbying effort on the part of Uber and Lyft, the nation’s best known rideshare services, to limit government oversight.

The rideshare companies successfully lobbied many state legislatures from enacting measures – like finger printing of drivers – that supporters claim would provide greater safety protections to consumers. It has been well-reported that the law governing rideshare companies in Ohio was essentially drafted by an Uber lobbyist and passed into law. The 2015 law overturned a Columbus ordinance that required all rideshare drivers to be fingerprinted.

Why?

Because the drive share companies were opposed to it.

Continued vigilance in the name of consumer safety now come with a punishing and painful reminder. As grieving families now bury their dead, ground transportation companies, and those that regulate them, must commit to doubling down on safety now. Too much precious cargo is at risk.

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