The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently acknowledged hearing from charter bus companies detailing difficulties experienced with emission regulations. Operators say the agency’s unrealistic time frame to resolve problems is responsible for safety risks to passengers, disproportionate costs to tow a motorcoach, and other expenses related to missed shows or flights and harm to reputation.
Hearing from the industry is essential, said Ken Presley, Vice President, Legislative & Regulatory Affairs & Industry Relations/COO.
Presley recently gave a special shoutout to Phil Streif of Vandalia Bus Lines in Caseyville, Illinois, for his industry advocacy with the EPA to bring the operator’s perspective to the equation.
“Phil has worked tirelessly on behalf of the industry, and we appreciate his leadership,” Presley said.
Streif says he began reaching out to the EPA in March of last year. It all started after a bus that had derated on its way back to St. Louis had to be towed back from Kansas City. This has been an ongoing problem since 2008.
“I finally said enough is enough, we need to do something about this,” Streif said.
‘Tenacious representative for our industry’
Motivated, he decided to advocate for the industry with the EPA’s latest rule about heavy-duty vehicles.
“I guess my role would be the initial tenacious representative for our industry that got the ball rolling and brought our concerns/troubles to light,” said Streif.
There are a lot of obstacles when it comes to actually getting hold of anyone in a government agency who has the power to make changes, so he was surprised when his outreach got attention.
“Persistence pays off and the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I wasn’t going to stop until we got somewhere. Luckily we got in touch with the right people who finally heard us out,” Streif said.
After he got in touch with the right officials in the federal government, he reached out to the United Motorcoach Association along with other groups, including the American Bus Association and Issue Media Group as well as coach manufacturers to get support in achieving the industry goal.
“After that, it was a team effort. We had numerous zoom calls and consistent conversations on the topic,” Streif said.
‘Mad scramble,’ safety concerns
The message to the EPA was that the derate schedule of slowing a bus to 5 mph when the bus has certain emission codes is not adequate time for anyone to troubleshoot or fix the issue.
Currently, operators have 4 hours to fix a problem before a bus is derated. Such a short time frame is unacceptable and unrealistic, Streif says.
“When you see a derate code, it’s a mad scramble,” Streif explained to government officials. “It’s making calls to find someone to diagnose and hopefully fix the bus. It’s reaching out to other operators to line up a bus to transport our people, or sending a bus from our location to change out. To say it’s a stressful situation is an understatement, especially if you’re in a remote area or if it occurs in the middle of the night,”
Ultimately, the rule doesn’t support passenger safety. In addition to the extra expenses of tow bills, contracting other companies to move the group, and damage to a company’s reputation, slowing the bus down to 5 mph on the interstate is dangerous. It could result in a rear-end collision.
Streif’s insight was helpful. He encourages operators to also reach out to the EPA with stories about the challenges they have faced in responding to the inducements.
“What we have seen so far with their plan is certainly an improvement, but we need to push for more leeway,” Streif said. “There will be a hearing with the responses before any final rule is put out, so there is still an opportunity to shape this in a way that will be a huge relief to all of us.”
At the end of March, the EPA published in the Federal Register a proposed rule, “Control of Air Pollution from New Motor Vehicles: Heavy-Duty Engine and Vehicle Standards.” This rule would set new, more stringent standards to reduce pollution from heavy-duty vehicles and engines starting in model year 2027.
The proposed standards are intended to significantly reduce emissions of smog- and soot-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) from heavy-duty gasoline and diesel engines and set more stringent greenhouse gas standards for certain commercial vehicle categories. Comments on the proposed rule are due by May 13.
There are three ways to send a comment:
- Email: a-and-r-Docket@epa.gov and include Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2019-0055 in the subject line of the message.
- Mail: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Docket Center, OAR, Docket EPA-HQ-OAR-2019-0055, Mail Code 28221T, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20460.
- Hand Delivery or Courier (by scheduled appointment only): EPA Docket Center, WJC West Building, Room 3334, 1301 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004. The Docket Center’s hours of operations are 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday – Friday (except Federal Holidays).
When operators share their insights with agencies like the EPA, everyone benefits.
“There are many issues to be considered,” said Presley, “but the one issue that folks at EPA need to consider is that a loaded motorcoach traveling at 5 miles-per-hour looking for an exit on an interstate is fundamentally stopped. Let’s not wait until a catastrophic crash to correct this oversight.”