House Subcommittee on Highways, Transit, & Pipelines Holds Hearing on Curbside Bus Operators
On March 2, the House Subcommittee on Highways, Transit, and Pipelines held a hearing on curbside bus operators. These bus operations have been increasing over the last two years, especially in the Northeastern United States. Thus far, FMCSA has identified 24 curbside operators that operate approximately 200 motorcoaches. They generally offer discounted prices for intercity service and, to some extent, offer charter and tour bus service. Many of them show little or no inspection history, and are difficult to identify because they do not operate from an identifiable place of business. They literally do their business at the curbside and depend on word of mouth marketing. The safety of these operations has come into serious question. In addition, many of these operators do not operate in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Hearing witnesses included FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandberg and representatives from the American Bus Association, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the Transit Unions, and two owners of curbside operations.
All of the witnesses, with the exception of the curbside operators themselves, emphasized the need for stepped-up enforcement of the federal motor carrier safety regulations against these operators. The greatest enforcement challenge, however, appears to be the fact that when enforcement action is taken against these operators and they are shut down, the next day they will again resume operations under another business name. Thus, current and updated information on these carriers in FMCSA’s database is essential.
In addition to initiating special strikeforce enforcement activity against curbside operations in the Northeast in conjunction with the respective state enforcement agencies, FMCSA Administrator Sandberg outlined other elements of a National Motorcoach Safety Program FMCSA plans to implement that include:
- Increased motor coach compliance reviews;
- Development of a separate compliance review prioritization system for motorcoach carriers;
- Reduction motor coach fires;
- Expedited safety audits of new entrant motorcoach carriers ( to be done in nine months instead of 18 months;
- Establishment of a formal motorcoach inspection program in all states; this is to be achieved by requiring each state enforcement plan to address the issue of bus safety.
Also, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety called for upgrading the testing requirements for entry-level Commercial Driver Licenses for motorcoaches and requiring special entry-level and advanced motorcoach driver training.
The Subcommittee is expected to make recommendations based on the testimony received that will be implemented either through legislation or stronger regulatory and enforcement action by FMCSA. It is possible that the Subcommittee may ask the DOT Inspector General or the GAO to study curbside operations in greater depth and make recommendations necessary to ensure a high level of public safety.