- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The streets of Washington will be packed with chauffeured limousines today as the city’s powerful visitors and hobnobbing politicos navigate from one party to the next.

Local transportation companies, acutely aware of the increased security downtown and the threat of a terrorist attack using limos, are prepared for one of the toughest driving days in the city.

The companies have been busy since the election booking vehicles for everyone from business executives and politicians to lobbyists and dignitaries.

“It’s exciting because you get to meet the players in the business,” said Louis Antoine, operations manager and a driver at Pick Me Up Limousine in Beltsville. “It’s a time to network, meet future clients and market your business.”

Mr. Antoine will meet his clients at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and will chauffeur eight persons around town in his stretch limousine.

The quadrennial event is welcome business for an industry that sees its busiest time in spring and fall, during the wedding, prom and homecoming seasons.

“It’s good to have the phones ringing off the hook,” said Adel Hizi, owner of Silver Car Chauffeured in Columbia, Md.

The transportation company, which has 12 vehicles in its fleet, had requests for about 100 more Lincoln Town Cars and sport utility vehiclesduring inauguration week. Silver Car is renting vehicles and drivers from 20 companies from New York to South Carolina to accommodate the onslaught.

International Limousine Service Inc. is expecting $150,000 to $200,000 in additional revenue this week. The D.C. company, which has 100 limousines, sedans, buses and vans, sold three-day transportation packages for a minimum of 10 hours a day. More than half of the fleet was booked through those packages.

Most companies are requiring a 10-hour minimum today, which means clients will have their chauffeurs at their beck and call all day. However, they won’t have access to many vital roads in the city because of the heightened security measures and road closures.

Many VIPs will have to get out of the comfort of their pristine limos and walk a few blocks through 30-degree temperatures to their destinations. And tonight, that means they will be strutting down Washington’s streets in evening gowns, high heels and tuxedos as they make their way to the official balls.

“Most people know they can’t get to the front door,” said Richard Kane, president and chief executive officer of International Limousine Service. “This is a unique time. Pragmatic thinking must be on everyone’s mind.”

Limo companies are on high alert, particularly with the government warnings that terrorists could use bombs in limousines to attack the United States.

“The whole key on terrorism is awareness,” Mr. Kane said.

International Limousine learned about the limo-bomb scare three months ago, and was on the lookout for any suspicious behavior, particularly if customers asked about the size and dimensions of a vehicle. No such incidents occurred, he said.

Mr. Hizi has warned his drivers to call 911 if they see stretch limos overloaded or low to the ground.

The closed roads downtown certainly will cause problems for drivers, but most companies are used to it.

“All of our drivers have been driving for 15 years and know the ins and outs of the city,” Mr. Antoine said. “They know what routes are open and not open. They just have to plan ahead.”

Mr. Antoine encourages his drivers to get out of the District as soon as they drop their clients off at their destinations and stay just 15 minutes outside the city to avoid being stuck in gridlock.

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