The bus and motorcoach industry entered 2019 with reason for optimism in its legislative and regulatory environments. For the most part, with adverse federal legislation abated the regulatory environment once again allowed passenger carriers to focus on the business of providing the public safe and affordable transportation—profitably.
The particularly successful 2019 Bus & Motorcoach Industry Fly-in took advantage of a rare period when the industry was less on defense and could properly highlight its vital role in providing safe, economic transportation to the nation.
The message was emphasized that nearly 3,000 companies operate 34,885 motorcoaches in the U.S. while directly employing over 112,000 people. The industry conducts 596.4 million passenger trips, 69.6 billion passenger miles and over 1.5 billion road miles annually.
Highlighting the small-business nature of the industry, nearly 82 percent of the industry operates nine or fewer motorcoaches, while 0.07 percent (22) motor carriers operate 100 or more. Small, often family-owned companies are the backbone of the industry, providing safe and affordable access to jobs, education, healthcare and tourism.
National Park Service
With a $12 billion maintenance backlog, the National Park System moved ever closer to imposing heavy and disproportionate fees on bus and motorcoach groups entering national parks.
Meanwhile, Congress is considering a bill (H.R 1225, Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act) with the stated purpose “to establish, fund, and provide for the use of amounts in a National Park Service and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund to address the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education.”
The House of Representatives has 435 members, and 329 members have signed on as cosponsors of the bipartisan bill. That would normally be indicative of quick passage; however, if you are following the news these days you likely noticed the House is somewhat preoccupied.
With surface transportation reauthorization looming in September 2020, a number of bills were introduced midyear that could prove challenging for the passenger carrier industry (and solid reasons to participate in the 2020 Bus & Motorcoach Industry Fly-in).
Two bills were introduced that would raise the insurance requirements for interstate property carriers (long-haul trucks) from the current $750,000, to nearly $5 million (H. R. 3781–Improving National Safety by Updating the Required Amount of Insurance Needed by Commercial Motor Vehicles per Event [INSURANCE] Act of 2019 and H.R. 3383–Safe and Fair Environment on Highways Achieved through Underwriting Levels Act).
The percentage of increase is based solely on medical inflation with mandated future periodic adjustments. Using similar rationale, the bus and motorcoach industry could be facing similar legislation requiring $30 million in liability insurance.
A single incident led to bill H.R. 3628 (Motor Carriers Accountability Act) requiring motor carriers to alleviate hardships due to “unwarranted” and “excessive” passenger delays. Although somewhat vague, it is presumed the intended target of the bill applies to scheduled service, which could encompass scheduled casino trips, some commuter trips, etc. The penalty for noncompliance starts at $50,000. The bill has significant support in the House.
A bill ending the industry’s exemption from Federal Labor Standards Act overtime regulations was introduced (H.R. 3485 Driver Fatigue Prevention Act) for employees driving motorcoaches. If passed, passenger carriers operating motorcoaches would be required to pay time and a half for all time a driver is on duty over 40 hours.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
With a more sympathetic ear at the FMCSA, the industry submitted several petitions and the Agency revived some long-stalled petitions. Currently before the Agency: the San Francisco International Airport inspection and permit requirement, the California Meal and Rest Break requirement, New York state’s imposition of “19-a” driver requirements on interstate carriers and the Chicago decal requirement.
Favorable decisions could restore the Congressional intention of eliminating a panoply of regulations that inhibit interstate commerce and consume mountains of unproductive time completing permit applications and misguided inspections.
Meanwhile, with a mandate from the president, the FMCSA sought input in an effort to reduce the burden of some regulations that include the driver’s employment application, expanding the local radius, possibly broadening the definition of “adverse conditions,” and eliminating the requirement to retain “no defect” driver vehicle inspection reports.
On the horizon (Jan. 6), the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse promises to restrict drivers who test positive or refuse drug and alcohol tests only to return to driving by finding an unsuspecting motor carrier. The clearinghouse will create a repository for previous tests and actions. The new entrant driver training requirements were delayed for two years while states contemplate how to use computers.
On a final note, the much-maligned lease and interchange regulation was finally amended six years after it was first proposed. The regulation no longer requires passenger carriers engaging the service of other passenger carriers with interstate operating authority to enter a prescribed lease.
Along with some legislators, the FMCSA is considering a Commercial Driver Pilot Program allowing 18- to 20-year-olds to drive. With the current driver shortage showing no end, many are reconsidering their former positions as well.
The FMCSA, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, continues to evaluate automated driving systems: driver assist and “autonomous.” Ready or not, this technology is advancing, and every operator should make sure they are informed regarding highly automated commercial vehicles and the effects on our industry.
Finally, many FMCSA compliance reviews now require carriers to upload requested information through their portal. This can be a huge time-saver for FMCSA and motor carriers alike, as much of the review now takes place outside of your facility. If you have not visited your portal in a while, make sure your PIN number is active and you are prepared. Routinely viewing your compliance record through your portal is a best practice.
All things considered, 2019 was a favorable year for the bus and motorcoach industry, and we have a great story to tell the public. Meanwhile, we see some storm clouds on the horizon as we enter 2020: an election year. Posturing and raising campaign funds are legislator priorities, along with the ominous consequences of impeachment proceedings.
We approach the new year with an abundance of optimism and caution.
Continuing a tradition established in 1971, your UMA Board of Directors and Legislative & Regulatory Committee afford the requisite leadership that guides policy and actions. Elected by you, they seek your opinion and input in national affairs.
Hopefully we will continue to enjoy the deregulatory directives of the current Administration in 2020 and beyond. There will be opportunities to review and discuss the issues and more at the 2020 UMA Motorcoach EXPO in Nashville. See you there!