BWI Airports Authority Begins Enforcing Licensing Requirements for Ground Transportation: is there really a benefit?

Last week, 17 drivers were arrested or cited by police for picking up passengers at BWI airport without the required permit.

At least three drivers, including Creecy, told The Capital they were handcuffed in front of longtime customers and kept in a police holding cell at the airport for eight hours overnight Tuesday.

The arrests and citations were issued during an authority police initiative to “enforce the policies and regulations regarding the standards of transportation services providers are required to adhere,” said Cpl. Robert Thibodeau, an authority police spokesman.

“Our job is to protect the customers who are using those services,” Thibodeau said.

Operators claimed they didn’t even know the permits were still required.

“My business has been around for 15 years,” Overmier said. “We used to have to have a permit to operate (at the airport) hanging on our rearview mirrors. We’d get notice every year to renew them.”

Overmier said he didn’t receive a renewal form in 2005. When he inquired with the Maryland Aviation Administration about renewal, he said airport officials told him they were not issuing new permits.

Over the years, the old permits cracked, faded and were eventually taken off rearview mirrors.

“All of us (businesses) just figured we don’t need them anymore,” Overmier said. “Since 2005, we’ve gone to and from that airport a little more than 20,000 times. We’ve been stopped (by transportation authority police) on numerous occasions for cracked windshields, headlights out, and no one has ever said anything about a permit.”

It’s been so long since the permits were used, that drivers who are new to the chauffeur business don’t know they ever existed.

That BWI hasn’t really enforced their licensing requirements for several years creates a natural experiment, especially since it created a situation where drivers didn’t even know the licensing was required.

How many passenger incidents were there in 2006-2009? How many in the four years prior to that? On a per-passenger basis?

If the rate of dangerous incidents didn’t go up from 2006 onward, then it’s hard to argue that there’s a safety justification for licensing.

I called the BWI aviation administration’s media folks looking for this data. They called me back promptly but told me they didn’t have this sort of data. That seemed strange to me, I’d think that a licensing authority would want to know about incidents in their jurisdiction, among licensed and unlicensed operators, and would want to know whether their licensing scheme was effective.

I rang up the aviation authority policy, as the media contact had suggested. They transferred me to airport operations, who was thoroughly confused. If anyone has suggestions on how to get this sort of data I’d love to hear it in the comments.

That said, I suspect that there isn’t a significant protective effect from licensing drivers, but I’d sure love the statistics to find out one way or another.

What I wouldn’t mind seeing, however, is an airports authority “stamp of approval” — a certification that the airports authority has run a background check on the driver and validated their insurance, for instance. Even if the airports authority only wanted to let such drivers queue up in the designated taxi lanes, and no other unlicensed drivers, that would be fine.

But there’s no reason to make it illegal for drivers to pick up passengers. Customers could use this airports authority certification if they wished, and many passengers unfamiliar with the area likely would. Signs and announcements could even encourage it. But it’s silly to make it illegal for a pre-arranged driver to pick up a passenger at the passenger’s request.

In my own personal experience at Washington-Dulles, where there isn’t just licensing but a monopoly, I’ve had clearly impaired drivers on multiple occasions. I’d much rather have found my own in the terminal.

And ending these requirements has both productivity and environmental benefits. There’s no good reason for most airport trips to be one way. Cabs drop off passengers at the airports, they should be able to pick up passengers as well rather than riding back empty. Instead, forbidding the practice roughly doubles the number of vehicle trips, with all the dropoff cabs returning empty. And for little demonstrated benefit.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Licensing of this sort is almost invariably about providing monopoly pricing to selected drivers or about payoffs to the licensing (or enforcement) authority. It’s not about protecting customers.

  2. You’ve ridden with an impaired driver? I would have requested they pull over and called the police, as soon as I could tell they were impaired. It’s not worth the possibility of an accident.

    One of the Redwings is paralyzed for life, due to his limo driver being impaired and wrecking.

  3. If licensing is done properly (ie about ensuring a high standard) and not done to ensure a high price, then it’s commendable. I don’t think it’s sensible having passengers being expected to check drivers’ paperwork before accepting a ride.

    What is shocking about this story is the way the matter has been handled. It’s unconscionable to suddenly change the rules with no notice; it’s doubly so to then arrest drivers and manacle them in public when they spring this surprise – indeed it smacks of the sort of thing the KGB used to do.

    I would like to see the perpetrators of such offences themselves being arrested.

  4. @Bikeguy – it was a long time ago, my judgment wasn’t as good then and I wasn’t sufficiently confident to step in and frankly at the time I was too scared (and yes it happened more than once but that didn’t help me be in a better position to argue).

    I won’t take a cab late at night or early morning from Dulles.

    I’m not saying this is still a problem, or that I wasn’t just unlikely getting the only drivers who ever did it those few times, but it’s scared me away personally from Washington Flyer at Dulles.

  5. Makes no difference about when the permit expired, the MAA sent letters out stating “even thought your permit expired, you MUST STILL DISPLAY” New expiration is TBD (to be determined). This is the letter that I got in the mail 4 years ago! If you read COMAR and ask the PSC, YES a permit IS needed to do business at BWI. Let me ask you all this: Each and every day for a year you drive up and down 95, let’s say doing 65 to 70 miles an hour. The all of the sudden you are stopped by the police because you are speeding! Do you argue w/ the officer because you’ve never been caught before? Another one: “Just because you can cook, does that mean you can open a restaurant?”
    Bottom line is, you MUST have the permit!! It’s the responsibility of the transportation company’s owner to make sure that all rules and regulations are followed! Don’t give the crap excuse “I’d didn’t know that!” A law is a law…and if you cross that line….tough….you suffer the consiquences!!!

  6. This is nothing more than revenue generation with the added flavor of sneaky enforcement (entrapment?). Safety? Just like being trapped at a couple mph over the legal but generally unobserved limit, safety has nothing to do with it. I bet it made the “authorities” feel mighty important, though…

  7. @JJ – your argument is it’s the law, notice or no, but don’t even attempt an argument that says the law in some way benefits the public?

  8. It is totally non sense to arrest driver and hrassed them . Police can fine them with first offence and again fine them 2nd and third offence .If they do not stop they need to arrest . That shit is written in comar and i do not why police is blind to read that comar .

    It is shame full to arrest the driver as Maryland Aviation sleeping admininistrator STEVE MOE never sit on the desk .If some onelucky to find hime handing over two to three your old application . There is no management where people can get information and follow the law . What is wrong with those police office and PSc if they can have board state that pick up is not allowed if you do not hav permit . in case some one go give them ticket . Comar clear state that all pre arranged pick up is allowed .

    We are in 2010 where are these information .You can not find on maryland aviation authority nor bwi website.

    This all is keep RMAin buisness so they can rip off passenger and offer free ride to these administration.

    Look that crazy townig company at bwi airport for 5 mile they are charging $150 to $200 .

    This is just for making money andsupporting RMA so they can Make more revenue .

  9. The heck of it is, these airport permits are totally unnecessary. The drivers already have permits from the state, so they have already been checked. I agree that a person should be allowed to be driven by the driver of his choice. For an officer to tell the customers of a driver who has been driving them for years to find other transportation is unconscionable. These officers should find themselves in civil court soon.

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