Ignore the squawks and walk on by | Ask Erin

If you want to feel like a piece of fish thrown to a flock of hungry seagulls, simply walk down the ramp at Colman Dock in Seattle.

If you want to feel like a piece of fish thrown to a flock of hungry seagulls, simply walk down the ramp at Colman Dock in Seattle.

Just make sure and bring a suitcase — a suitcase indicates to the “hungry” limo drivers that you are in need of a ride.

(Sounds remarkably similar to seagulls’ squawks.)

Besides being aggressive and annoying, these drivers are illegally trying to get your business. The more ruthless ones may even try to “help” you with your luggage in hopes you will follow them to their car.

I think of myself as a strong-not-easily-intimidated type of person. But even my adrenaline gets pumping after encountering this behavior as I make my way to the cabs, whose drivers are following the rules.

So after recently experiencing this aggression on my last trip to the airport, I called Craig Leisy, manager of the Consumer Affairs Unit for the City of Seattle. He was well aware of the illegal behavior.

“If drivers are already knowingly breaking the law, it makes you wonder what other laws they are breaking,”  Leisy said. This could include not being properly insured or having a vehicle that doesn’t meet inspection.

Leisy had good news though. Things should be noticeably changing at the ferry terminal, as well as other problem areas: cruise ship terminals, downtown hotels and train and bus stations.

While taxi drivers can be hailed on the spot, limo drivers must have prearranged trips planned before legally picking up passengers. This means they must have an actual preplanned customer — someone who called ahead to arrange a ride from the ferry terminal to the airport. (The one exception to this is at the airport where passengers can approach waiting limos.) But the driver is not allowed to approach people seeking business.

Seattle has been trying to fight this problem for years, but its hands have been tied because in Washington, the limo industry is regulated by the state’s Department of Licensing.

Until now.

Senate Bill 5502, which took effect Jan. 1, amended Chapter 46.72A “Limousines” of the Revised Code of Washington. The revision allows the state to enter an agreement with the City of Seattle to conduct street enforcement, perform limo vehicle safety inspections and monitor limos’ insurance. Which means civil infractions can be handed out to improper drivers at the cost of hundreds dollars.

In a follow-up email, Leisy wrote, “Inspectors have issued several fines — most are $500 for soliciting passengers — at the Colman Dock ferry terminal and at Amtrak train station in the past few days.”

Steve Salins, manager of limousine operations for Shuttle Express, said what has been happening is a classic case of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch.

While there are legitimate and legal limo drivers on the streets of Seattle, the “rogue operators” cast a bad shadow on those who are properly conducting business.

Salins told a story of brash behavior: A guest at a downtown hotel had arranged to have a limo take him to the airport and stood waiting outside a downtown hotel.

A limo driver saw the guest waiting outside the hotel and pulled over and asked, “Waiting for a limo?”

Not knowing this wasn’t the limo he summoned, the guest got into the car.

Meanwhile, the proper limo arrived at the hotel to learn his customer was no longer there.

After hearing of the customer’s absence from the dispatched driver, Salins called the passenger’s cell phone and learned that he was already in route to the airport.

“The irony in this is that often these prearranged trips are prepaid,” Salins said.

As was the case in this story.

Upon arrival at the airport, what happened was shocking: the driver held the passenger’s luggage hostage, demanding payment for the trip.

“This puts a lot of pressure and guilt on the passenger,” Salins said.

Not to mention it is downright uncomfortable and a bit scary. But hopefully with the new regulations in place, this type of behavior will cease.

Salins and Leisy suggest that before hiring a limo, customers should ask if the car is properly licensed (a white sticker on the back of the car, often on the bumper and about the size of a business card, indicates the car is licensed) and ask the driver for valid proof of insurance. Customers should also ask chauffeurs to see their license, which is issued either by King County or Alliance 20-20 and confirms the driver has been cleared of a criminal background check and driving record check.

Make sure your out-of-town visitors are aware of this issue and help them make proper arrangements from the ferry to the airport.

The taxis waiting at the curb are legally operating but are not allowed to leave their cars unattended. Passengers must walk up to them. (And FYI, taxi drivers go through comprehensive testing in order to obtain their taxi license, including a written exam, physical exam, oral language test and a four-day training course.)

Or, call ahead and prearrange a ride with a reputable limo service.

And if you happen to experience a “seagull incident” with rogue drivers, hold your head up high and don’t engage with them. While their squawks are loud, you have the power to walk on by.

— Ask Erin is a feature of Kitsap Week. Have a question? Write Ask Erin, Kitsap Week, P.O. Box 278, Poulsbo 98370 or e-mail ejennings@northkitsapherald.com.