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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, August 11, 2000

Limo drivers left
out of the loop

THEY are feeling lucky over at Lucky Limousines. The Honolulu City Council's latest attack on small business, a bill to keep limousine drivers from parking their whales on the street at night, isn't going to affect them.

Lucky Limousines owner Kaveh Aghdasi told me he parks his two stretch limos in a garage. But he feels bad for the hundreds of independent limo owners who aren't so lucky. For them, their limo is their life. It's their sole business. And they are forced to park on the street because they have nowhere else to go.

Apparently like many limo drivers, Aghdasi learned of the City Council's parking plan through the media. It's always fun to find out in the newspapers that the government is messing around with your livelihood. While driving a limo might seem an exotic profession, it's really not that much different than driving a cab. Sure, your passengers dress a little better, what with the wedding togs and everything, but you've got all the problems of a taxi and more. More maintenance, more gas and, yes, the need for more space to park the bloody monster. Two parking spaces, actually. And that apparently bugs residents of some neighborhoods where street parking is limited.

City Councilman Duke Bainum says he's heard heaps of complaints from people who don't like these "luxury" vehicles stealing parking spots. So he introduced a bill that would limit limo parking on the street to just four hours. The City Council went along, at least for the bill's first reading. It has to be voted on two more times before it becomes law. By that time, maybe the City Council actually will hear from some of the small business people whose lives they are affecting.

I talked to several limo owners and only one, Duke Tiet of Duke's Limousine, had received Bainum's letter telling him about the bill. Duke is another one of those guys who won't be affected by the parking ban. He has a big company and he's got a parking lot for his nine limos. But he uses up to 200 independent drivers and the parking ban is going to hurt them, he said. Why would the city suddenly crack down on these limo owners?

"Sometimes, people are jealous," he said.

BINGO. Jealousy. It seems like the government is always jealous when small business people are making a buck. People in government think anyone with their own business is rich. Their job, then, is to squeeze these business people for all they're worth. And, hey, if you've got a limousine, you must be rolling in dough. These are LUXURY vehicles. The drivers wear SUITS. How dare they park for free on OUR streets.

But that's completely wrong. These guys aren't rich. Tiet guessed there are probably 500 limo drivers on Oahu, most of them independents. They are working stiffs. Sure, they get to drive around on nice wheels, but they bust their butts all day long. And something the council might have forgotten is that the streets are theirs, too. They pay taxes. A lot of taxes, especially on the gas those stretch babies guzzle, sometimes more than 10 gallons a day.

Many of the drivers also face monthly loan payments on their cars as high as a mainland house mortgage. Your average new limo costs $70,000. You'd have to drive all the members of a Sun Myung Moon mass wedding to the service to cover that kind of monthly nut.

Many of the drivers are also immigrants whose English isn't that hot. They aren't the kind who feel comfortable debating economics with City Council members. In other words, they are a nice, easy target. And that's kind of sad.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to

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