Gil Cygler is president and CEO of AllCar Rent-A-Car, an independent car rental company operating in New York’s five boroughs. Cygler sits on the board of directors of the American Car Rental Association.
Twenty-four years ago, I was two years out of college and working in the car rental company that my father had started. We got word that the State of New York had passed legislation which would hamper if not devastate our growing rental car company.
The sale of loss damage waiver (LDW) and the ability to collect from a renter’s credit card was prohibited. Adding insult to injury, the new law required all car insurers in New York to include coverage for rental car physical damage on the policies written in the state, yet New York car rental companies were prohibited from collecting under such policies.
I learned of the law through the efforts of a few hard-working car rental owners who banned together and quickly formed the New York Vehicle Rental Association (NYVRA).
At the time, there was no statewide association; there was only a national association with no representation in New York and Auto Rental News had just started. New York had over 200 independent car rental companies operating in all corners of the state, which included licensees, new and used car dealers and independent operators. Fleet sizes ranged from the handful to the hundreds.
With the stroke of a pen in the hand of Gov. Mario Cuomo, the landscape was about to change.
The NYVRA founders held the first of many meetings in an Albany Hotel conference room, which was attended by more than 200 people representing a range of companies — though most of the major national chains chose not to join NYVRA. We met, commiserated and sprang into action by organizing grass-roots lobbying and information campaigns to both members of the legislature and our industry. Meetings were set up to explain the devastating impact of this legislation.
I recall meeting with dozens of elected officials who all said such a bill would never pass; they were shocked when I replied that not only had the bill passed but they had voted for it. This new law limited a car rental company’s ability to collect for vehicle damage to $100.
The next several years were difficult. Each year, NYVRA gathered in Albany with fewer people. I was now able to understand — albeit in a different way — the reunions people experience when they are joined by fewer members as the years pass. I made friends with many car rental operators as well as some elected officials with whom I remain friends to this day. The legislators were sympathetic and agreed the law needed to be repealed or changed yet nothing happened for years.
After years of lobbying and passage of a bill in the Senate and not the assembly — followed by passage in the assembly and not the Senate, followed by passage by both bodies only to be vetoed by the governor — the law finally passed on Feb. 24, 2003. It now allowed New York car rental companies to again rightfully collect for the damage done to their assets. Sadly, most of my friends in the industry had already closed their car rental stores, which have hurt both the consumer and the state.
The enactment and eventual change in the law has taught me that it’s much easier to fight a law from being passed than changing it. And it’s far easier to challenge and make an impact when you are not alone. It is too bad that New York did not have NYVRA before the law passed — the New York car rental landscape would look more diverse than it does today.
One of the leaders of our eventual successful efforts is Sharon Faulkner. She is currently executive director of the American Car Rental Association (ACRA), which I am honored to serve as one of its board members. This year, ACRA succeeded in having the updated law extended for another five years.
Unlike 1989, our industry was united in our campaign to the legislature, as ACRA is supported by all the major rental companies and many smaller ones. I have seen first hand the impact and devastation a seemingly minor bill can cause — and how easily that could have been averted if an active ACRA had existed in New York in early 1989.
I personally thank the New York Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo for extending the law, which allows the sale of LDW and collection of damages. I also want to thank the members of ACRA who are united in working for the betterment of our industry.
This is just one example of the importance to belong and support ACRA so we are not again blindsided like in 1989. I just wish we all had that foresight then, so my car rental friends could have still been in business to experience the law’s final change.