Calif. bids goodbye to stretch limos

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If your Wine Country dream wedding has always included a vision of you in a long white stretch limousine, you may be in for a rude awakening after Jan. 1. That is when SB109 and SB863 – bills that seeks to increase safety standards for limousine passengers – officially go into effect.

Stemming in part from a horrific accident that killed five women traveling in a limousine on the San Mateo Bridge in May of 2013, the new laws require retrofits to existing stretch limousines to make them safer for passengers. But some companies are getting rid of their stretch limos entirely and replacing them with vans and party buses in order to be in compliance with the new law.

According to Beau Wine Tours affiliate manager, Christina Zanone, the new laws have changed the way in which her company does business. “Our fleet of vehicles now includes a Mercedes Spinter van rather than a traditional stretch limousine,” said Zanone.

Under the new bills, limousines are now required to be equipped with at least two rear side doors and at least one pop-out window. Previously, a standard limousine configuration consisted of two doors up front for the driver and passenger and two doors at the very back of the vehicle for the remainder of passengers. Those passengers riding just behind the driver and passenger were required to use the far back doors as well, making it difficult to exit in the event of an emergency.

Originally set to take effect in January 2016, the launch was pushed out one year due to lobbying efforts made by the nonprofit Greater California Livery Association (GCLA). The GCLA, whose mission is to advocate for the private livery industry, found the requirements of SB109 and SB863 too costly and extreme to complete in the timeframe originally laid out by Gov. Jerry Brown.

For Beau Wine Tours, retrofitting their fleet of four limousines would have been costly but, the legislative back and forth was what proved more difficult to navigate. Rather than retrofit, the company chose to sell their limousines to an out-of-California company where the laws aren’t yet as stringent.

“Until the full written text of the state’s legislation is in place, we won’t be offering a limousine to our customers,” said Zanone. She went on to state that the new legislation has put a bit of a damper on the business for those who want a stretch limo. “The Sprinter van accommodates a similar number of passengers but aesthetically, isn’t received in the same spirit as a stretch limousine,” said Zanone.

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