UMA pursues preservation of charter bus exemption
On July 29, the United Motorcoach Association filed comments with the National Park Service regarding their current proposal to impose Commercial Use Authorization requirements on tour and road-based tour operations as well as charter buses.
UMA’s comments acknowledged the need for NPS efforts to improve visitor experiences by addressing the current backlog of repairs and maintenance of roads, buildings, utility systems and other structures and facilities. “Our National Parks are an important component in preserving the natural environment, our Nation’s unique culture and history, while affording an outlet for education and a variety of tourism opportunities,” we wrote.
UMA listed our primary concerns with the proposal:
- NPS fails to use the CUA application cost of $300.
- NPS fails to account for the imposition of a $5-per-passenger management fee.
- NPS inadequately accounts for the additional burden of filing required annual reports associated with the management fees.
- NPS fails to account for the creation and maintenance of internal financial controls necessary to account for the retention and subsequent remission of the management fees.
- NPS does not explain how it derived the estimated number of CUA applicants and annual reporters. This is particularly critical considering the vague manner in which NPS has failed to rationally identify in a uniform manner those entities who would be required to obtain a CUA at the discretion of park superintendents.
- NPS inadequately accounts for the expanded requirement of obtaining CUAs for NPS units that have never required CUAs.
- NPS fails to comply with Executive Order 13272, “Proper Consideration of Small Entities in Agency Rulemaking,” by failing to properly address the complete scope of entities that NPS will subject to the revised CUA.
- NPS does not adequately consider small business entities and the nature of the charter bus tour operator businesses in general and the impact of the April 2018 revisions.
UMA points out that charter bus operators have been virtually ignored.
“Charter bus companies conversely are simply for-hire companies, generally categorized as ‘demand response.’ Charter bus companies market their services of providing vehicles and drivers to transport groups to destinations of their independent choosing.”
The comments further identify nearly all of these as “school groups; religious groups, such as youth and senior groups; community social groups; boy and girl scout organizations; etc.,” and further point out that nearly all these groups are registered nonprofit entities.
The regulation clearly states, “Nonprofit institutions are not required to obtain commercial use authorizations unless taxable income is derived by the institution from the authorized use.”
UMA points out that while the NPS rules exempt charter buses, NPS still allows park superintendents to decide if they want to impose the road-based tour operator CUA on charter operations.
This truly is the exception that ate the rule and a backdoor method of imposing additional fees on exempt organizations through the charter bus company inasmuch as they must pass these additional costs along to the charter party.
“Imposing the CUA requirement on charter buses dictates charter bus operations must impose the full cost of the CUAs and management fees on every group inasmuch as the charter bus company has no means of determining if there will be other groups that charter their buses for future travel to specific parks.”
UMA also addresses the burden of filing insurance with each park considering nearly all passenger carriers are registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and are required to file requisite insurance, comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSA) and maintain safe operations as a condition of continued operations.
The NPS requirement to furnish certain registration and insurance information overlaps FMCSA jurisdiction over commercial motor vehicles. The current status of a motor carrier including insurance and permission to operate is information readily available. NPS should eliminate the redundancy and reduce the burden of the motor carriers providing Certificates of Insurance.
The CUA application requests information that is not only impracticable but generally impossible to provide. For example, NPS requests the vehicle identification number(s) of commercial motor vehicles intended for use under the CUA and driver information including the driver’s license number.
Considering the advanced period during which tour operators may be marketing NPS units, it is unlikely they have contracted with a bus provider. In instances where they may have an advanced contract, it is highly unlikely the bus provider knows which bus or driver will be assigned. The complexity of available buses and drivers are subject to regulatory authority, inspections, mechanical conditions, medical and fatigue requirements and hours-of-service compliance.
UMA reiterates its desire to work with the NPS to find practical and affordable solutions that help address the current repair and maintenance backlog. Considering the vague descriptions, poor application process and inclusion of charter buses in the current proposal, we are turning the red light on.
As always, let us know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.