Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Ray Martinez recently answered questions from Bus & Motorcoach News about issues impacting the industry and United Motorcoach Association members.
What is the FMCSA doing to spur expansion of new entrants as communities are increasingly losing commercial passenger services?
Like everyone, we want to see a national economy that is strong and growing and so it’s very important to have a healthy, vibrant commercial passenger carrier industry that provides services to Americans no matter where they live.
We have very recently redesigned and updated a landing page on our website called the “Motor Carrier Safety Planner” (this formerly was called the Education and Technical Assistance (ETA) package). It’s been specifically designed to provide information and answer questions for individuals who are considering entering the passenger carrier or trucking industry. We want to help them and we especially want to help them understand how to comply with federal safety regulations.
What we have found is that the best operators understand safety is paramount to running a successful business. We encourage new entrants in the industry to join an association to be better informed about news and issues that may affect their operations, for example, using an electronic logging device (ELD) from the official list on our website of devices that are registered with FMCSA and self-certified by providers as compliant with the ELD rule.
We work closely with all trade associations, notably, the United Motorcoach Association and the American Bus Association, to make sure if there are any changes in laws and regulations, that they are transparent. To the extent possible, we want to reduce barriers for new entrants.
Has the Agency considered encouraging veterans returning to the private sector to consider operating their own company and applying for interstate operating authority?
Well, first of all, we have a pilot program that should be kicking off shortly for under 21 military drivers who have been trained in driving buses and trucks in the military and possess the equivalent of a military commercial driver’s license (CDL) to be able to operate on U.S. highways and roads in the private sector.
In terms of entering the passenger carrier industry as drivers, I would certainly encourage them to do that – as I would anybody, whether they’re military or not military.
I look forward to working with industry leaders in partnering towards expanding our outreach to military personnel who are transitioning out and make them aware of the great career opportunities that await them as professional commercial drivers. I’d love to work with industry on that.
Brokers are common in the truck industry but far less common in the passenger carrier industry. Is FMCSA concerned that the evolution of “bus brokers” could compromise safety inasmuch as they are not operational?
Brokering is certainly a common practice in trucking, especially within the interstate household goods industry, which FMCSA also regulates. And you are correct that brokering is growing in the commercial passenger carrier industry. Our current regulatory authority, however, is restricted to interstate commercial carriers and drivers.
If you look at passenger carrier brokers from a consumer perspective, I want to make sure that the consumer getting on that bus or motorcoach knows exactly what carrier is providing the service. When it comes to brokers, to the extent that it interferes with consumer disclosure and transparency, yes, that’s a concern.
The issue is evolving. We want to work with industry to understand “which way are you going?” and, importantly, “how can we be helpful and not be a hindrance?” while ensuring that safety is maintained as everyone’s highest priority.
I know the reputable carriers and the associations in the industry want that too. A large part of the reason that intercity and local bus service has a well-earned reputation as a very safe form of public transportation is that you have responsible, highly professional carriers dedicated to insisting upon safety at all times. Plus, you have strong associations that have good communications and excellent relationships with the federal and state agencies that regulate the bus and motorcoach industry.
Are there plans to make improvements with the DataQ system? States sometimes fail to update successful challenges to violations. Might FMCSA be able to institute an independent appeal process so that the Agency could adjust Safety Measurement Scores when a state fails to act?
The Safety Measurement System, or SMS, is an element of the “Compliance, Safety, Accountability” program, or CSA. CSA has now been in existence for nearly 10 years. From its establishment, the Agency has always said the program would be continually open for refinement in order to provide the best possible data towards identifying the “high risk” truck and bus companies. There are players out on our roads and highways that pose the greatest danger to safety. We are always open to discussions of new ideas to make the data better.