Los Angeles International Airport officials are working to control shuttle vans and limousines that clutter terminal areas as they troll for passengers.
Since July, airport police have enforced 56 new rules aimed at bringing van and limousine operations under tighter control and chasing out unscrupulous or unlicensed operators.
The new effort has included airport police officers going undercover to detect violations by drivers.
“Some of these drivers will do whatever they can to get a passenger,” said Joseph Clair, who oversees van and limousine operations for the airport. “There is no question in my mind they will.”
Under the new rules, airport police have given drivers more than 1,000 citations for such infractions as circling the airport too many times in search of passengers--the allowable number is two--or leaving their vehicles unattended for too long.
The crackdown has brought howls of protest from some van operators, who contend that overzealous police are interfering with their ability to pick up fares.
Limousine operators also are unhappy. They have filed a lawsuit in Superior Court, challenging a rule that requires them, along with bus and van operators, to obtain a permit to operate at LAX. Limousine operators fear that other area airports could adopt similar rules.
“The main thing is that if LAX can do this, John Wayne can do it, and Burbank can do it, and Palm Springs can do it,” said James Geffner, an attorney representing the 120-member Limousine Owners Assn. of California.
The new rules were prompted by increases in the number and variety of airport transportation businesses operating at LAX, airport officials say. The state Public Utilities Commission has not restricted the number of van companies serving LAX and their numbers have grown from a handful six years ago to 20 now. The vans carry up to about a dozen passengers and offer travelers door-to-door service to an area, such as the San Fernando Valley, at a lower price than a taxi.
“From a consumer’s standpoint, this is probably the greatest thing that has happened in transportation,” Airport Police Capt. Alan Hyde said.
At the same time, the number of limousines operating at the airport also has mushroomed. The airport estimates that of the 294 permits it has issued to all transportation companies, at least 75% have gone to limousine firms. One permit can cover dozens of vehicles operated by a single company.
Add to the vans and limousines a growing number of courtesy buses, operated by hotels and car rental agencies, and the result, on occasion, has been terrific congestion in front of terminals.
“At the bus stops, there are passengers that complain about the carnival atmosphere,” said John Kindt Jr., president of Van Nuys-based Prime Time Shuttle.
To bring order to the situation, LAX officials last spring began requiring bus, van and limousine operators to obtain permits from the airport in addition to the one they must receive from the PUC. Forcing the companies to get a permit from LAX, airport officials say, enables police to determine quickly who is authorized to work at the airport without having to check with the PUC.
In July, the airport imposed the new rules that, besides limiting how many times van drivers can circle the airport, also specify how many vans a particular company can park at a curb at one time and require limousine drivers to wear badges with their names and that of the company on it. Drivers also can be cited for being discourteous or not keeping their vehicles in safe condition--the rules allow the airport to bar a limousine from LAX if it is dirty and dented.
Citations carry no fines, but each violation carries demerits. Depending on how many demerits drivers accumulate, a company can be barred from the airport up to a month at a time. At least four companies now face possible suspensions, although they can appeal their citations to a hearing officer.
When a company is suspended, no information about it is given to travelers from the eight ground transportation assistance booths the airport operates outside terminals.
“We have all these companies trying to operate in this restricted area around the terminals,” Clair said. “We wanted to create a level playing field for all of these competitors to operate on.”
Several van and limousine owners conceded that the airport’s program has chased away some so-called bandits, or unlicensed companies, and alleviated other problems.
But Glenn Barrons, the owner of a Lawndale-based limousine company and president of the limousine owners association, complained that the airport unfairly forces limousines to carry more insurance than required by the PUC. Airport officials contend that the additional insurance, which limousine operations must obtain before the airport will give them a permit, is necessary to protect the airport against lawsuits.
Some van operators complain that some rules go too far or are too vague. And airport police, they said, have been too quick to draw their pencils and write citations.
Kindt and Albert Levin, president of Airport Flyer Express, asserted that the airport hampers their drivers’ efforts to attract customers. Under a new solicitation rule, drivers are allowed to pull up to a designated curb, get out and yell out their destination twice. The airport does not allow a driver to walk up to travelers and ask where they are going.
“Sometimes people stand there and look at you and they don’t know what to do,” Levin said.
But Clair said officers have not gone overboard in writing tickets. “I don’t think we get one-tenth of the violations,” he said. “We don’t have enough airport police to do that.”
Clair defended the solicitation rule as fair and said it should help stop unscrupulous drivers from approaching travelers and taking them to areas where their PUC permit does not allow them to go. For instance, an operator might be licensed to carry a passenger from the airport to the San Fernando Valley, but not from the airport to Pasadena.