When it comes to following new statewide regulations, local transit company Dadd’s Magic Bus & Limousine aims to keep the “steady” pace it said it always has set for itself.
Dadd’s, established in 1986, owned by Frank Roberts and located at 407 Turner Ave. NW, is a company that offers rides on charter buses, party buses, limousines and luxury sedans. In 2015, the fleet took 984 trips, with anywhere from two to 56 passengers per run. It has six regular employees, from office to maintenance workers, and several drivers under contract.
Tammy Heibel, Dadd’s manager, said the company is unsurprised by recent legislation passed by the Michigan Senate and House that will create uniform statewide “rules and licensing fees for ride-hailing (and) taxi and limo companies” that will “pre-empt most local regulations,” according to The Associated Press.
The main bill was passed by the House on Dec. 7 and, late last week, was awaiting Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature.
Heibel said while the legislation creates a new set of “good” regulatory challenges for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, longtime taxicab and bus service companies, such as Dadd’s, always have been regulated on the state level by the Michigan Department of Transportation, so much of what they do won’t change.
“It won’t slow us down,” she said. “I just went through a DOT audit, and I think Dadd’s does a good job of staying on top of the fees and regulations.”
According to the AP, the new legislation also will put into place more stringent standards for drivers, like screening for traffic violations, felony convictions, sex offenders and requiring drivers to be older than 19.
Heibel said Dadd’s already abides by those standards because of its insurance requirements.
“That won’t affect us at all. We have more regulations and qualifications than any other company in the Grand Rapids area, just because of our insurance,” she said. “You have to be 25 years or older. You have to be driving on your certifications for more than two years. We do background checks, so if you have anything on your record, you’re disqualified.
“We are primary transit for Grand Valley, and we also do Davenport, so we make sure our drivers get background checks and are older than 25.”
Heibel said Dadd’s gets overflow business from companies that are operating with sub-standard practices.
“We get a lot of calls where people have booked months and months in advance and call in tears. They have a wedding in five days, and they get a call (from a transit company) canceling on them. I look into it, and they’re not even DOT regulated,” she said. “It’s an easy way to make a lot of money if you’re not legal. You buy a vehicle and put it on the road.”
One of the proponents of the legislation, Sen. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, said it is intended to step in and eliminate discrepancies, so all ride-hailing companies, including local and nationally based companies, such as Uber and Lyft, are working from the same standards.
“Part of it was to level the playing field, and part of it was to make sure they were operating within a regulatory structure,” Rocca said. Uber and Lyft “were operating for years outside of the legal requirements. It was important to have them operating within the law.”
Despite the competition from Uber and Lyft, Heibel said Dadd’s business has been “steady.”
Part of that, she said, is due to its unique offerings, like the ugly sweater pub crawl, casino express rides, entertainment express rides and party bus packages, plus its longtime affiliation with the Gerald R. Ford International Airport picking up travelers whose flights have been delayed.
“Some of the (ugly sweater pub crawls) are donation-related, like to veterans and the cancer society,” Heibel said. “We donate through gift certificates. Last year, in 2015, we donated close to $100,000 through the value of gift certificates to West Michigan benefits.”
In the near future, Dadd’s, which stands for Drivers Against Drunk Driving, plans to launch a mobile app that will allow business owners to offer free Dadd’s rides to inebriated patrons through a sponsorship program.
“I think Grand Rapids is growing; it’s huge,” she said. “There’s a lot of drunk driving out there, so our goal is to be readily available and easily accessible.”