Limo owners, state take precautions

As printed in The Norwalk Hour, CT Post by By Michael P. Mayko

Santo Silvestro says he doesn’t believe in leaving anything to chance.

Every day, Silvestro said, he or his fleet manager inspect the vehicles that have gone out from his Hoyt Livery or Crosstown Limousine, both in New Canaan.

“I’m here seven days a week,” Silvestro said last week. “I’m out looking for dents, checking the tire pressure. … If I see a something wrong, even it it’s a tail light out, that car does not go out until it’s repaired.”

The Silvestro family, which has owned Hoyt Livery, also known as Hoyt Limousine, since 1987, maintain their own body and repair shops — New Canaan Auto Body and New Canaan Auto Repair, on the same Cross Street site.

Photos by Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

The deadly crash of a re-manufactured Ford Excursion — a so-called “super stretch” limo — in upstate New York that killed 20 on Oct. 6 has sounded warning bells in the heads of brides and grooms scheduling parties and receptions, parents preparing for proms and others, including state. Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who sits on the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee.

“They have to pass (inspection) before they can do business.”
Kevin Nursick, Department of Transportation spokesman

“That crash has left questions about the vehicle and the driver,” Boucher said. “We need to determine if our laws are well-written as to the qualifications of drivers and the inspection of these vehicles.”

In Connecticut, limousine services using vehicles carrying fewer than eight passengers are only required to be inspected once by the Department of Transportation, and that’s when the company is applying for a license. “If they don’t pass inspection, they are not licensed,” said Kevin Nursick, a DOT spokesman. “They have to pass before they can do business.”

He said the majority of vehicles inspected are “sedans and SUVs, not stretch limousines.” And he added vehicles operating under services like Uber and Lyft are not inspected at all.

That’s another problem Boucher said the Transportation Committee needs to look at.

Stretched out

Vehicles carrying eight or more passengers in the state must be inspected every six months by Connecticut’s Department of Motor Vehicles. “Stretch Limousines operating in Connecticut can only do so if they are specifically certified by the factory manufacturer to be altered in such a way, and only if the modifications are or were performed by a factory-approved establishment,” Nursick explained. “These vehicles would also be inspected by CTDOT prior to service. Vehicles not meeting this criteria are immediately rejected, and cannot be registered for livery use in Connecticut.”

But DOT’s requirements only extend to vehicles garaged in Connecticut and transporting passengers within the state. Additional requirements for commercial motor vehicles traveling into and out of Connecticut fall under the regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The Silvestros said they never operated with any super stretch limos. They sold their two conventional stretch limousines two years ago because there wasn’t much call for them.

“A reputable company really needs to be careful,” Silvestro said. “Any time you take a car, chop it in half and add a piece — how safe can it be?

Federal and state investigators in New York are attempting to determine the cause of the catastrophic upstate crash. Published reports claim the 2001 Ford Excursion, modified into a stretch limousine, ran a stop sign, struck a parked sport utility vehicle and rolled down an embankment. The 17 passengers and driver were killed, along with two pedestrians.

Safety measures

Nationally, there were 28 fatal crashes — and 39 total deaths — involving large limousines from 2008 through 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That compares with nearly 318,000 fatal crashes and nearly 347,000 total fatalities in crashes involving all types of vehicles during that period. Of the 39 fatalities, 24 were occupants of large limousines, while 15 of those killed were pedestrians or in other involved vehicles.

The administration, through its Fatality Analysis Reporting System, defines large limousines as as automobiles with more than four side doors or a stretched chassis with sections added within its wheelbase to increase length and passenger/cargo carrying capacity.

The term does not refer to regular-sized automobiles that might be chauffeuring passengers like a town car. It also does not refer to utility-truck-based limousines, such as the Cadillac Escalade, Hummer, or Suburban limousines.Silvestro said each of his cars is equipped with a hammer to break glass and seat belt cutters. His vehicles also have fire extinguishers and flares. Newer vans have push-out glass on the sides and the roof, Silvestro said. “Our drivers have been trained in safety procedures,” he said.

“I personally hire them. They have been with us anywhere from five to 23 years. He said his insurance company requires periodic safety inspections of his vehicles, more than the state requires. “If I’m told by a driver that something doesn’t sound right in a vehicle, its coming off the road,” said Linda Silvestro, of their family owned businesses. “We’re in the business of transporting people — that’s precious cargo; I want to be able to put my head on the pillow every night and go to sleep knowing we did the right thing.”

“Any time you take a car, chop it in half and add a piece — how safe can it be?”
Santo Silvestro, owner, Hoyt Livery, New Canaan

Expert Tips for Traveling Abroad

If you plan on flying out of the country, these industry expert tips will teach you what to do in advance, help you reduce stress and stay safe when traveling abroad, courtesy of travelzoo.com.

Your Health and Safety

Check in with your doctor. If you’re on prescription or other regular medication, make sure you have enough to last your trip and even consider packing extra. Check in with your primary care doctor to make sure you’ve renewed all essential prescriptions. Also, ask your medical insurance provider if your policy applies overseas for emergencies. If it doesn’t, consider supplemental insurance.

Register with your embassy. It’s a good idea to let your embassy know where you’re traveling, so if there’s a problem in the country, it will make it easier for your government to contact you, your family, and get you to safety.

Plan on Sightseeing

International travel is a rare treat, so take some time in advance to research the city you’re going to on the Internet, or better yet, order a guidebook on the area. Guidebooks usually include interesting facts, annual events, and maps. Also download apps before you travel. Avoid downloading charges from your wireless carrier and get your apps before you leave.

Buy tickets now for places you know you want to visit or see. By buying in advance you’ll be able to skip more lines, and find more deals targeted toward you.

Research events that will be taking place while you’re there. This will help you make sure that you’re not missing the best events going on in the city — fun things like festivals, ceremonies, and natural events. Also be sure to research a few national dishes to try. You don’t want to leave the country without experiencing some of the culinary delights it’s known for.

Luggage and Packing

To check or not to check? If you can swing it, opt for carry-on only — you’ll get on and off the plane faster, and reduce the chance of lost or stolen luggage.

Bring extra copies of your passport. If your passport gets stolen or lost you want to be sure that you can still get back into the country, or be able to prove your citizenship, so bring multiple copies of your passport and leave them in several places when traveling. For extra backup, leave a copy of your passport at home or with someone you trust. Consider making an electronic copy you can store in your email account as well.

Bring snacks. Traveling abroad is fun, but eating in a foreign country can sometimes become a challenge. Bring small snacks for long flights to hold you over until you find that perfect restaurant or food cart.

Cash and Cards

Learn monetary conversion in advance. Make sure you do your math before you travel to get a sense of where the conversion rate is at.

Convert money at a bank or ATM. Once there, the conversion centers in the airport or around the city tend to be huge rip-offs, so go to a bank or ATM in the city you’re visiting. You won’t get charged as many fees and the conversion will be exact.

While at the bank, withdraw some cash; not every place takes credit cards, such as trains or bus stations.

Make sure your credit card will work. European banks have switched almost completely to the more secure chip-and-PIN technology, and fewer businesses abroad are accepting the outdated magnetic-strip cards.

Also let your bank and credit card provider know you’re traveling. Fraud alerts are triggered by unusual transactions, such as spending $1,000 in Germany, for example, so let your bank and card company know you’ll be traveling in advance, so they don’t shut down your card when you’re on the road.

Check the country’s entrance/exit fees. Also note that some countries require travelers to pay a fee to enter or exit the country. These fees are not included in the price of your airline ticket, and can range from $25 to $200.

Get Technical

Bring a phone charger adapter. Different countries have different size electrical outlets and voltages, so if you want to use your favorite hairdryer or charge your phone, make sure you have an adaptor.

To avoid expensive roaming charges, activate your phone’s global capabilities. There’s usually a charge for doing so, but it’s much less than the roaming charges you could incur.

Source: Travelzoo.com

What to Know about the Global Entry Program

If you travel abroad regularly, you may want to consider applying for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program, which allows eligible flyers to take expedited lines at the airport when returning to the U.S. Here’s how Global Entry works, courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Global Entry Program:

What It Is

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Global Entry program allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the U.S. through automatic kiosks at select airports.

At airports, program members proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingerprints on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit.

While Global Entry’s goal is to speed travelers through the process, members may still be selected for further examination when entering the United States. Any violation of the program’s terms and conditions will result in the appropriate enforcement action and termination of the traveler’s membership privileges.

How to Sign Up

Travelers must be pre-approved for the Global Entry program. All applicants undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview before enrollment.

To begin, create a Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) account. Once you log in, complete the application. A $100 non-refundable fee is required with each completed application. American Express members can get a fee credit if they use their card when filling out the application.

Customs will then review your application. This will include a thorough background check involving law enforcement, customs, immigration, agriculture, and terrorist databases as well as biometric fingerprint checks.

Once you’re conditionally approved, your TTP account will instruct you to schedule an interview with a Customs agent at a Global Entry Enrollment Center.

For the Global Entry interview, bring a valid passport and one other form of identification, such as a driver’s license or ID card. If you are a lawful permanent resident, you must present your machine-readable permanent resident card (green card).

Who is Eligible for Global Entry?

Americans as well as citizens from the following 11 nations and territories are eligible for Global Entry: Argentina, Colombia, India, Germany, Mexico, Panama, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

Canadian citizens and residents are eligible for Global Entry benefits through membership in their country’s NEXUS program.

If you have been convicted of a crime, or have criminal charges pending or are under investigation, you may not be eligible for Global Entry. If you are denied for the program and you feel the decision was in error, you can provide additional documentation to the CBP Trusted Traveler Ombudsman to request reconsideration.

Just send an email to the CBP Trusted Traveler Ombudsman at: cbpvc@cbp.dhs.gov, “Attention: CBP Ombudsman.”

Global Entry Cards

If approved, you will be issued a radio frequency identification (RFID) Global Entry card. To activate your card, log into your TTP account and click on the “Activate Membership Card” button.

While the cards are accepted at U.S. land and sea ports of entry, Customs can process you without one, as long as you have your ID and other travel information. The cards are only required for expedited entry at the SENTRI and NEXUS lanes coming into the United States.

The cards are not accepted at Global Entry kiosks. Those require passports or green cards.

Can Family Members Travel via Global Entry?

Yes, if those family members have their own Global Entry memberships. Minor children 18 years or younger are required to have parental or legal guardianship permission to sign up for the program.

Each family member that you wish to add to the program must create a TTP Account and fill out a separate application.

Head-of-the-Line Privilege

The head of the line privilege is a perk available only at U.S. airports with Global Entry kiosks. The head-of-the-line privilege is reserved for program members if the kiosks are not working for some reason. The privilege can also be instituted if a member gets referred to a CBP officer, and at the exit points.

For more information on the Global Entry program, visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.