Hiring a limo service for your prom

April 23, 2009 5:48:30 PM PDT
We're coming around to that season again -- proms, weddings, and graduations. For lots of people, it is time to splurge on a limousine. But beware -- you don't get taken for a ride.

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The limo ride should be the ultimate luxury, but things do go wrong -- the limo arrives late or it's a substandard car. Last year we met a group of kids whose junior prom was ruined when they rented a party bus. So we went back to see how they did this year.

For these Burlingame High School students, pictures tell a big story.

"I had the best senior prom I could ever imagine," said student Alex Donati.

This year's senior prom photos show the kids all grinning and excited. Last year's junior prom photos show the same kids practically in tears.

"My daughter's stranded in the street with her hair done and her prom dress, her nice tan, and nails, and 'Mom what should we do? We're stuck,'" said parent Lisa Barghahn.

Forty kids rented a luxury party bus from Think Escape of Hayward to drive them to the dance. Instead, a broken down bus came two hours late and the kids missed the entire prom.

"Oh, we were so mad. We all poured in the street," said Alex.

It turned out Think Escape was not licensed at the time and it refused to refund their $3,200.

This year the kids got smart. Harrison Anixter and his friends drove their own cars.

"We kind of found out you didn't need to get a party bus to have a great time," he said.

Roxy and her friends rented a stretch Hummer after doing a lot of research.

"There was an interview process that we actually did with the various limo companies all the way up until when the limo driver arrived," said Barghahn.

Rachel Gardner took a big risk and joined a group on a party bus. She got a pretty big scare.

"It was supposed to be there at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. came and my heart's pounding, I'm like, are you serious? If this happens again? And I didn't want to take a chance, I was like you know what, I'm not going to wait," she said.

Rachel's mom raced over and drove Rachel and her date up to the prom herself. The rest of the party bus kids missed most of the dance.

"Everything that you would like to get out of the service, it's advisable to have that in the contract," said Julie Halligan of the California Public Utilities Commission. "The price, the time you're going to get picked up, the time you're going to get dropped off, where you're going to go, any amenities that the vehicle would have."

Even with all the planning, these kids were never quite sure they would make it to their last big dance of high school.

"Seeing the limo drive up to the driveway was probably one of the best feelings I've ever had," said student Roxy Barghahn.

"When we pulled up we looked at each other and we go, 'We made it! We finally made it," said Alex.

So here's what to do when you hire a limo:

  • First be sure the company has a valid PUC license
  • Get all terms in writing
  • Ask to see the exact vehicle you'll ride in
  • Read customer reviews
  • Check Better Business Bureau reports

Think Escape did not return our calls for comment. But since we first aired the story last year, the company did obtain a PUC license. However, the Better Business Bureau gives Think Escape an "F" rating for unresolved complaints.

For information on where you can find tips on hiring a limousine and how to check licenses, visit the links below.

CPUC: Limos, Shuttles, and Buses: Consumer Information Center

CPUC: Useful Information About Passenger Transportation

CPUC: Transportation Carriers Lookup (Lookup a license)

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