- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Riding a slightly lame mule would be a faster way of getting around parts of downtown this week than driving, but the Inauguration is proving to be great for the transportation business.

Street closings, protesters, security restrictions and about 200,000 onlookers will make travel difficult. However, some of the people flooding through Washington are taking limousines, buses, cabs and charter jets.

The District's Bethany Limousine Service bought three new $60,000 stretch limousines to meet the demand for inauguration reservations. The recount of the Florida votes and late announcement of George W. Bush's victory, however, caused a scheduling crunch.

"Everybody was waiting to the the last minute for the results of the election," said Bethany Limousine co-owner Khalil Abu-Rish.

Because of strong demand for the company's 40 sedans and 20 stretch limousines all of which are booked Mr. Abu-Rish was compelled to impose minimum reservation periods. Each stretch limousine reservation during the Inauguration requires a four-day minimum rental at $75 per hour for eight hours. Normally, the company allows one-day, four-hour minimum rentals.

Mr. Abu-Rish also had to hire 10 temporary employees to answer telephones and assist drivers.

"It's very good for business," he said. Compared with previous Inaugurations, "I think it's going to be as good as others if not better," Mr. Abu-Rish said.

The company's drivers have been checking with local transportation agencies to plan routes around closed streets. The most frequent pickup spot for customers with reservations is the Watergate Hotel, he said.

Cab companies also have noticed an upsurge in business, particularly in the hotel section of Northwest. By yesterday, two days before the inauguration festivities begin, Diamond Cab Co. reported business was up 50 percent compared with an average weekday.

To prepare for the Inauguration, maintenance crews put in extra time to make certain all the company's nearly 300 cabs are operating. Drivers were given maps marked with all the street closings.

"It's going to be terrible Friday and Saturday," said Alberta Poole, a supervisor for Diamond Cab. "They probably won't be able to cover all the jobs they have." If demand is overwhelming, Diamond Cab plans to call on competitors to help carry riders.

For travelers from out of town, charter bus companies are another option. Washington's transportation planners are known in the charter bus industry for setting aside easily accessible parking spots for buses during special events.

"Washington being such a tourist-oriented city, the police department goes out of [its] way to help motorcoaches," said Bob Schwarz, executive vice president of Springfield, Mass.-based Peter Pan Bus Lines Inc. "It's like in Massachusetts, we know how to deal with snow. In Washington, you know how to deal with motorcoaches."

To prepare for the inaugural weekend, Peter Pan is rerouting some of its 45-foot, 55-passenger buses from other cities to Washington. On Saturday, the company is scheduled to bring 12 charter buses into Washington.

"Four years ago we didn't turn away any business," Mr. Schwarz said. "This year, we're turning away business because we simply can't handle it."

Customers were still calling to request reservations as recently as yesterday. "A lot of people will be scrambling now," Mr. Schwarz said.

At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the staff of Signature Flight Support Inc. anticipates a nearly 300 percent increase in business this week.

Signature Flight Support provides fuel, towing, de-icing and hospitality service for private and corporate aircraft. It has beefed up its staff of 60 with 15 additional workers borrowed from other airports in the company's national chain. They also brought in additional fuel trucks and aircraft tow vehicles.

"We're excited about it," said Eric Hietala, general manager of the company's Washington operation. "Our reservations show that we should have approximately a tripling" of business. "That would be approximately 200 aircraft arrivals each day on the 18th, 19th and 20th."

For one Austin, Texas, charter jet service, the Inauguration is a bittersweet experience. Capitol Wings has been the charter jet service used by George W. Bush for the past five years while he was governor of Texas.

"We hate to lose him as a customer, but we're proud he's the president," said Jerry Garrett, Capitol Wings' president.

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