After two limo fires and our own investigation catching a driver breaking the law, we ask, who’s keeping an eye on the industry?
Lawmakers and people within the industry claim some companies are cutting corners and putting lives at risk because they can.
“We’ve been asking for more regulation for years, we need it,” said Glen Main, Owner, Baja Limo.
In the limo business for 33 years, Main isn’t surprised to hear of the limo fire on the San Mateo Bridge that killed five women, including a bride.
Or of the 10 women who escaped a limo fire in Walnut Creek this weekend. They were crammed in a limo meant to seat eight.
officer: “What’s the deal with your license?”
Chamizo: “It’s… honestly, it’s suspended.”
And remember this arrest of a driver for Starlite Limo of Sacramento? He was caught driving a limo in the fall without having a driver’s license.
Chamizo: “Going to jail?”
Chamizo: “That’s what I figured.”
Main who runs Baja Limousine in Rancho Cordova says far too often, limos are dangerously carrying passengers in California.
“It’s the lives of people that are out in these vehicles that’s being jeopardized,” said Main.
State Senator Jerry Hill says historically, safety has not been a top priority at the state agency overseeing limo companies.
He points to the deadly San Bruno blast as an example of the Public Utilities Commission’s negligence protecting the public.
“The problem is they’re not doing a very good job in their public relations nor in their oversight.” said Senator Hill, (D) San Mateo.
When he hears the PUC still hasn’t taken action against Starlite Limousine seven months after its unlicensed driver was arrested, he says it’s typical of the agency… slow to act.
“We need to make sure and hold their feet to the fire,” said Hill.
He thinks it’ll take replacing PUC head, Michael Peevey, to change the culture there.
But he also realizes we need stricter laws, considering how easy it is to build a limo and drive around passengers.
“Anyone can do it on your garage and then put it on the road and that’s not right,” said Hill.
Under current law, limos carrying fewer than 10 passengers, don’t need an official inspection.
The limos on the San Mateo Bridge and in Walnut Creek were eight or nine seaters.
Senator Hill is pushing for a law, requiring certifications for all limos regardless of size, before a passenger climbs inside.
“We want to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Hill.
Main agrees more oversight is necessary.
But he isn’t confident the PUC can handle watching his industry, after what he’s called decades of “non-enforcement”.
“You actually need field enforcement in order to really see what’s happening in this industry,” said Main.
Senator Hill is also working to require emergency exits in limos.
We asked the PUC to respond to criticism two days ago and as of tonight, they still don’t have a comment.