Is the Motor Carriers Accountability Act too much?

In our society, “dumb” is often concealed by an intellectual bikini… “spin” that barely hides nonsense, invoking “good intentions.” Once in a while the bikini slips and we are confronted with Full Frontal Stupidity.

If I read it correctly (which is hard because of the legal language) it appears that the proposed “Motor Carriers Accountability Act” falls into that category (pun intended). In addition to dictating a number of “rights” for passengers who experience delays, it would impose a minimum fine of $50,000 on any carrier who runs afoul of the regulation.

Many of the mandates are common sense, and responsible coach operators already work hard at meeting their spirit. We don’t intentionally leave customers on the side of the road without shelter, food or information.

The problem is the arbitrary nature of the proposed regulation. No matter how hard an operator is working to solve a problem, geography, weather and a host of other factors beyond their control may make it virtually impossible to comply.

A couple of thoughts.

Is this an example of “regulatory capture?” Large carriers have more resources available to replace stranded buses. Folks who buy tickets on smaller carriers, for competitive reasons, should be aware of that.

GBBs (Great Big Buslines) have the means to contest violations, and to them the occasional $50,000 fine is acceptable if it drives competitors from a market.

When a company messes up big time, there are civil remedies.

Every operator experiences an occasional hiccup due to mechanical, weather or driver issues. When it happens far from home, it costs a ton. As a result, virtually every carrier is already jumping through hoops to prevent doo-doos. The price of failure is prohibitive. No need to add insult to injury by imposing a confiscatory fine.

Operators who mess up too often, particularly in this age of “Yelp,” are driven from the field by market forces.

We wish it weren’t so, but the majority of people who ride scheduled service do so because they have few other choices. If they could afford to fly or drive, they would.

How does Congress think the GBBs will pay those fines? Gee whiz, they’ll raise ticket prices. Imposing punitive sanctions on carriers who have operational failures can only hurt the people who Congress says they want to help.

On the other hand, a $50,000 fine (on top of the expense of fixing the problem that triggered it) may well drive smaller carriers from the fray. For the GGBs, the “Motor Carriers Accountability Act” might be an irritant, but it would help them long term… at the expense of the public. Less competition always means higher prices, in this case being paid by those who can least afford it.

“Less is more.” Other than genuine safety and health issues, why not let the market take care of it? Everyone has heard the occasional horror story of a stranded busload… does anyone imagine the company involved enjoyed it? Or thought it was a helpful marketing strategy?

If Congress wants to have a positive impact, they should encourage competition… not directly or indirectly stifle it. Make it easier for passengers to have several choices. Maybe all that is needed is a publicly accessible database that allows customers to see statistics on how successfully a line carrier meets its schedule. Airlines are doing it now.

I’m not questioning Congress’s intent here, but sometimes doing less accomplishes more.

This proposed law is a bit like the tiny bikini. Once that jewel drops, it will be hard to “unsee” what’s behind it, and we may well be confronted with Full Frontal Stupidity.

Share this post