Since he retired from a personnel job in the Navy in 1994, being a chauffeur has grown on Boss. That may explain why he is so outspoken about limousine business blemishes. He calls it a "constructive criticism" that got him fired from La Costa Limousine last year in June. As Boss tells it, "One of the owners said, 'If you're not happy here, we don't want you working. Goodbye.' And that was after working at La Costa for two years and one month. I never had an accident, never had a complaint. The sad thing is that it's so much easier to fire a guy, because that door is going to open 15 minutes later with someone else walking through in search of a job. The guy wanting the job may have no experience. But [the owners] don't care about experience."
What is so important about experience in a job as simple as driving people around town? Emerald Limousine might be willing to answer. One of its chauffeurs forced his company last year into a "personal injury" lawsuit over an incident downtown. A woman returned to her rented limo from an excursion. She got into the car but still had the passenger door open and one foot on the street. The chauffeur suddenly pulled away as she talked to a friend at the curb. The limo's right rear tire ran over her foot, breaking it and tearing its ligaments and tendons. Though a court started to hear the matter, in January both parties to the dispute agreed to a dismissal. So much for court records. The chauffeurs' grapevine says the company got lucky in a $92,000 out-of-court settlement due to a degree of culpability on the woman's part for drinking at the time of the accident.
Sometimes, says Boss, passengers get out of the limousine at an illegal spot, such as halfway around the corner in an intersection. "And you've got the drivers who let the clients dictate to them," he says. "The client will say, 'We want to get out here.' See, a lot of times chauffeurs are so concerned about their gratuities that they let the clients run the show instead of telling them, 'No, you're not going to get out here. That will get me a ticket.'
"So you keep the doors locked," Boss has learned. The limos have childproof locks on all the doors so that the driver can prevent passengers from exiting whenever they feel like it or from stepping straight into traffic from the left side of the car.
Passengers can become obnoxious and destructive, too. "I had one guy I made sit next to the back window," says Boss. "He was very drunk, but he was not going to puke in my limo." Other incidents are less dire. Like the time Boss, who also drives for a bus company, was driving a busload of women being entertained by a dancer. "We were in the Gaslamp," Boss says, laughing, "and I had to turn the lights out, because he was completely naked dancing for the girls." Perhaps the limousine companies have been the most hazardous to chauffeurs. The courts have given drivers some redress in recovering wages and tips lost to the companies. But that may be ending. After losing its case in court, Cloud 9 Shuttle discovered a technique for keeping the upper hand by avoiding paying drivers "wages" at all.
According to Jud Wagner, whose title is "Director of Cloud 9 Classics," his company has operated for the past year on a franchise plan in which chauffeurs work as subcontractors. They must either buy their own vehicle or lease it from the company, which then collects from them a service fee for booking their jobs and allowing them to drive on its Public Utilities Commission permit. This approach is widely used on the East Coast, says Wagner, with the addition that chauffeurs buy from municipalities a medallion that gives them permission to operate. Taxicab owners are required to do that now in San Diego.
Cloud 9 is the only company in San Diego, so far, to make chauffeurs independent owner-operators. In the new approach, says Wagner, "There are responsibilities the drivers have. But hard workers should be able to do well." However, Greg Boss, who is still driving both a bus and a limousine, thinks that chauffeurs may sour on their independence when it dawns on them that their responsibilities as business owners include paying all of their own Social Security, prepaying their taxes quarterly, and assuming their own liability. They're not likely to get help from the courts anymore, either.