GLENS FALLS — Dawn Biddiscombe has numerous six-inch-thick binders loaded with paperwork for each of her company’s limousines and vans, detailing inspections, vehicle use and myriad other details.
A former paralegal who has worked for a number of local lawyers, organization is one of Biddiscombe’s strengths, and in the heavily regulated transportation industry in New York state, that skill comes in handy.
Biddiscombe and her son, Matthew Colucci, founded the limousine service of their family company, Premier Plus Travel and Tours LLC of Glens Falls, after having a company fail to show up for a family trip and hearing similar stories from clients.
Some state and federal legislators are calling for more regulations over the industry after the horrific crash in Schoharie earlier this month that killed 20 and involved a limousine company from Saratoga County, but Biddiscombe said those who try to follow the rules in New York have long been subjected to rigorous, thorough inspections and myriad safety requirements.
The state Department of Transportation requires that Premier’s four vehicles, and those of other legitimate companies, be inspected at a private garage every 30 to 60 days, depending on the size and type of vehicle and how old it is. Premier pays as much as $700 a month for those inspections, Biddiscombe said. Staff from the DOT check each vehicle at least twice a year.
“The DOT does their job,” she said. “Every mile has to be accounted for. Driver hours have to be documented. You have to keep good records and make them available.”
Unfortunately, there are many car and limousine companies that operate under the state’s radar, buying older, used vehicles and not registering with the DOT to avoid inspections, sales tax and other regulations that legitimate companies must abide by. They often undercut the state-sanctioned companies on price because they don’t have insurance, inspection and other business costs, Biddiscombe noted.
“It’s a tough business,” Colucci said. “If you are doing it right, there is a lot of overhead.”
State Department of Transportation records list four limousine companies operating in the Glens Falls region that were subject to DOT inspections in 2017-2018 — Premier, DPC Limousine of Queensbury, Pristine Limousine of Queensbury and Icehouse Limousine Service of Queensbury and Rutland, Vermont. State law requires that any company operating a vehicle that can hold more than nine passengers have their vehicles inspected by the DOT.
2018 state inspection of local limousine companies
|Company||Vehicle inspections||Taken out of service|
|Premier Plus Travel and Tours||6||0|
|Pristine Limousine (2017)||2||0|
Premier and Icehouse vehicles have Vermont license plates on them because they operate in both states. Biddiscombe, who owns a home in Vermont, started her company in Vermont.
Only Icehouse had a vehicle that failed inspection and was taken out of service in 2018, according to the DOT data. Calls to Icehouse and DPC Limousine were not returned last week, and no contact information could be found for Pristine.
Prestige Limousine of Wilton, the company involved in the Schoharie crash, operated without state authority, and in doing so was not on the DOT inspection lists.
Biddiscombe said there is little to stop a person who wants to buy a smaller limousine, capable of holding eight people or fewer, and throwing together a social media presence to start a business. Some will also have bigger vehicles that require DOT inspections, but hope to stay off the state agency’s radar.
“Anyone can buy a vehicle and think it’s a cash cow. They don’t understand the DOT laws and rules they are supposed to follow,” she said. “There are some people out there who buy a vehicle and just hope that DOT doesn’t catch them.”
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer agreed earlier this week as he called for more regulation of the “gray area” regarding certain limousines.
“Stretch limos exist in a gray area. They’re not a car. They’re not a bus. And that’s the problem,” Schumer said at a news conference in New York City on Oct. 14, according to wire reports. “They fall through the regulatory cracks and there are no safety standards for them. That has to change.”
Further confusing local customers is the region has had a host of limo companies with similar names in recent years. Premier, Prestige and Pristine have all operated locally, but none of them is affiliated with another.
Biddiscombe said the region’s DOT inspectors are very thorough, going through a checklist of more than 70 points on a vehicle during an inspection and reviewing records of drivers.
Biddiscombe and the state recommend passengers do their research before settling on a limousine or car company. They say:
- Check for a company website instead of just a social media presence, and look for pictures of the company’s vehicles instead of stock images.
- Ask to see the license of the driver, to check that they have the proper license endorsements. Driving a vehicle with nine or fewer passengers requires a commercial driver’s license, 15 or fewer passengers requires a commercial driver’s license with a “C” endorsement and passenger endorsement, and 15 or more requires a CDL C license with a passenger endorsement (corrected). All drivers operating a vehicle with nine or more passengers need a DOT physical exam as well.
- Check to see if a company is charging state tax, has an unusually low rate or seeking payments in cash. Not collecting tax is a sign they are operating without state authority.
- Ask for a written contract documenting charges, itinerary and other details.
Biddiscombe said the fatal crash has prompted more calls to her business and other legitimate transportation companies, as the public starts to realize that there are wayward companies that aren’t operating safely.
“People’s kids are in our vehicles,” she said. “You have to do your research like for any product, and compare apples to apples.”
“We’re hoping that the positive that will happen from this (crash) is that companies that operate without paying attention to the law will get more exposed,” she added.