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NY limo safety task force holds third meeting

Crash-involved 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine at final rest in the ravine.
New York State Police
The Ford Excursion stretch limousine involved in the 2018 Schoharie crash that killed 20.

A task force examining New York’s limousine safety rules held its third meeting today. It comes just after the governor extended the deadline for the task force’s final report.

New York’s Stretch Limousine Passenger Safety Task Force has been examining the state’s limo safety rules, several of which were passed in the wake of the Schoharie tragedy that killed 20 in 2018.

At the third meeting of the 11-member body Friday, several topics were reviewed including the aging out of stretch limousines, GPS tracking on out-of-service limos, enacted legislation on limo safety, safety equipment including seatbelts, interagency coordination, driver impairment, and consumer awareness and outreach.

But, as with the previous meetings, there were disagreements on the panel.

David Brown, President and CEO of Albany-based limo operator Premiere Transportation, said it’s not more regulations that are needed, but better enforcement.

Brown, who also serves as Vice President of Limousine, Taxi, Bus Operators of Upstate New York, said the stretch limousine industry is down over 60 percent.

“This is from our statistics with the National Limousine Association, is that we hurt the mom-and-pops. These were the weekend warriors that had the stretch limousines on the weekend, they might be that person who worked the school cafeteria but ran the limousines on the weekend. And we’ve seen a dramatic decline and we can only attribute this to their trying to keep up with the compliance with these laws,” said Brown.

Brown’s assertions were challenged by Nancy DiMonte, whose daughter was seriously injured in a crash that killed four on Long Island in 2015.

“Survival of the fittest, that’s what it’s about. That’s all you can really say to a person who has had such tragedy because of the needless, needless, needless situation, which it was. I mean, there’s no excuse for what happened in Long Island or Schoharie. There’s none that you can possibly give me. There’s nothing you could say,” said DiMonte. “So I do respect that about the small business, but if you can’t cut it then you have to maybe, you have to get out.”

On the topic of interagency coordination, Joan McDonald, Westchester County Director of Operations, discussed the use of technology.

“One of the most important points for us to understand with the transmission of data is the accessibility of that data from people who are in the field,” said McDonald. “Whether it’s a DOT inspector, New York State Police, local public safety…to have that data at their fingertips as they’re doing their jobs not in an office but out in the field.”

Brown was pleased to hear about efforts to enhance communication between the State Departments of Transportation and Motor Vehicles and New York State Police.

“I think this interagency communication is by far the most important factor that we’re dealing with,” said Brown.

The Task Force, created by legislation signed by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2020, held its first meeting in February after sitting idle. Last October, Governor Kathy Hochul revived the effort by announcing four appointees on three-year anniversary of the Schoharie crash.

After the task force got a delayed start, Hochul this week signed legislation extending the deadline for its final recommendations to October 1st.

Following the three Task Force meetings that were closed to public input, a public hearing will be held. No date has been set, but it was suggested Friday that a hearing be held in late May.

State DMV Commissioner Mark Schroeder is a co-chair of the Task Force.

“I do believe that the public has a lot to offer, and so this is the reason why, I think, going forward we allow that to take place as soon as possible, and then we reconvene, and we go over all the things that we’ve said, things that are important to us that we want to go forward with,” said Schroeder.

On Monday, U.S. House Representatives Paul Tonko and Elise Stefanik announced that the FBI will open an investigation into the Schoharie crash. The Capital Region lawmakers had asked the FBI to answer questions related to its relationship with the family that owned the limo involved in the crash. The owner of company Prestige Limousine, Shahed Hussain, was a longtime confidential informant for the FBI.

A New York Magazine article published in January suggested Hussain and his family were shielded by the FBI. The operator of the limo company, Hussain’s son Nauman, took a plea deal in September for 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide and 1,000 hours of community service for his role in the crash.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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