Protect yourself from limo scams

May 09, 2010|By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun

Don't follow Cinderella's example.

True, the pumpkin coach was all the fairy-tale heroine could afford — and everyone lived happily ever after, despite the vehicle's obvious limitations.

But if you're headed to a dance or need to get your bridesmaids and groomsmen to the altar on time, the last thing you want to worry about is unreliable transportation.

With prom and wedding season fully under way, consumers can get some tips to help protect against unscrupulous vendors from the Maryland Public Service Commission, which regulates for-hire transportation companies, including limos. The PSC received more than 100 complaints about limo companies last year, with the majority of stemming from poor service, dirty vehicles or billing issues.

Licensed and registered for-hire companies must pass both PSC and Maryland Vehicle Administration inspections, as well as have commercial insurance. Chauffeurs must have a for-hire driver's license from the PSC and must be fingerprinted and have a face-to-face interview before receiving it, said Joanna Fridinger, owner of The Limo Lady and president of the Maryland Limousine Association.

She said customers should ask companies for their PSC numbers. Customers can also confirm the numbers by calling the PSC at 410-767-8128 or searching the PSC's website, http://www.psc.state.md.us.

Denise Moran of Halethorpe wishes her daughter had been savvy last year.

Megan, a Mount de Sales Academy junior, rented a stretch Hummer limousine to take her, her date and nine other couples to the prom. The group contracted with White Glove Limousine Service, which was going to charge $550 for 4 hours, whereas other companies were quoting $900 or more.

"Of course it sounded like a deal," Moran said.

But the driver never arrived that night — and later ended up charging her husband's credit card three more times, she said. "They literally ruined their prom," Moran said.

After learning about her daughter's experience and receiving complaints from other consumers, the PSC ended up subpoenaing White Glove last year. However, the commission is still in the process of serving the subpoena, according to a PSC spokeswoman. White Glove did not respond to a call seeking comment.

Consumers should be wary of bottom-basement quotes, Fridinger said. "Most customers, when they call, their first question is: 'I need a limo, how much is it?' " she said.

"The illegal [companies] or the gypsies, they don't have the same overhead as the licensed ones," she added. "If it's a low price, that should be a red flag."

She noted that her insurance for four vehicles is $12,000 a year, and registered limo companies must also pay into the PSC's enforcement fund.

Always get a contract, she said.

And she recommended that consumers view the vehicle in person rather than choosing a car based on photos online. "If I was going to go out and spend $700 or $1,000 for one evening, I would want to see what I'm going to get," she said.

But consumers should not stop their inquiries there. When the cars pull up to pick them up, consumers should make sure that the drivers are carrying their PSC licenses.

"Would you put your young daughter or young man in a car with somebody you knew nothing about?" Fridinger said.

liz.kay@baltsun.com

http://twitter.com/lizfkay

Limo rental tips

Hire only licensed limousines or for-hire vehicles. Check the PSC website, http://www.psc.state.md.us, under "transportation" and "carrier vehicles," or contact the PSC's transportation division, 410-767-8128,for a list of licensed providers.

Get and check references. Ask the services to provide references, or ask family or friends for recommendations.

Personally view the vehicle. Do not rely solely on a photo.

Read the contract carefully before signing.

Report any complaints to the PSC's transportation division.

Source: Maryland Public Service Commission

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