• A New Age of Enforcement: Adjusting to Remote and Offsite Investigations & How to Prepare By:

    Presented as part of ABA’s BISC & BusMARC 2021 Virtual Safety & Maintenance Series The American Bus Association’s Bus Industry Safety Council (BISC) and Bus Maintenance Repair Council’s (BusMARC) 2021 Virtual Safety & Maintenance Series offered a sequence of educational webinars early this year, covering a variety of industry-related topics. As part of its ongoing webinar series, the ABA hosted a virtual meeting with presenters Catterson Oh and Danielle Smith, transportation specialists with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Compliance Division. Oh and Smith focused on COVID-19 national emergency investigative process updates including changes to the FMCSA investigative procedures due to COVID-19, recordkeeping and documentation as the result of COVID-19, and providing accurate documentation for FMCSA investigations. Changes to Investigative Procedures as a Result of the COVID-19 Health Emergency In May 2020, the FMCSA released guidance allowing investigators to conduct remote onsite investigations. These remote onsite investigations are intended to follow the same general process as offsite investigations with the exception that most of the investigation is now completed remotely. According to Oh, May 2020 resulted in a significant expansion to the FMCSA’s remote functionality. While motorcoach operators may not have seen any investigations in the last year, Oh noted that due to this expanded functionality, companies should expect a considerable increase in the number of investigations moving forward. “In terms of the offsite investigations with this pandemic, the policy with this particular type of investigation has not changed,” Oh said. “The offsite investigation will still be recommended for carriers that meet the appropriate criteria for this population of carriers.” Although carriers will not receive a rating from an offsite investigation, offsite investigations may be converted to onsite remote investigations under certain circumstances. Carriers with investigations that are converted onsite may be issued a Safety Fitness Rating. Overview of Investigation Process   Safety Investigator (SI) will conduct an initial phone call with the carrier to introduce themselves, and review the reason for the investigation and next steps.  2. SI will email the carrier an Initial Contact Letter that will go over initial documents being requested.  3. Carrier will upload the initial documents to the Safety Measurement System (SMS).  4. After SI receives the initial documents, they may request additional documents via a Document Request Letter.  5. SI may contact the carrier via phone and email throughout the investigation.  6. Once SI has completed the investigation, they will request a closeout meeting with the carrier, which can be done via phone, Microsoft Teams, Skype, or other platform.  7. Carrier may receive a Safety Rating upon completion of the Remote Onsite Investigation. According to Oh, carriers subject to investigation will receive a phone call, followed by an initial contact letter, from an FMSCA Safety Investigator (SI) introducing themselves, the reason for investigation and next steps. Once a carrier has received this letter, that carrier’s information will need to be uploaded into the FMCSA Safety Measurement System (SMS). After receiving the initial documents, an SI will review the content to determine if additional documentation is required. If additional documentation is needed the SI will issue a “document request letter.” “This is where things start kind of diverting from the normal way of doing things,” Oh explained. “Especially when you have performed onsite investigations.” An SI will start contacting the carrier via phone and e-mail throughout the investigation. In a normal onsite investigation, the SI would be with the carrier in person to answer questions and provide additional guidance.  Once the SI has completed their investigation, they will request a close out meeting with the carrier. This can be done over the phone or, more likely, in a video conferencing setting. At this point, the carrier may receive a safety rating upon completion of the remote onsite investigation.  Once the SMS has processed the information, the carrier will be able to access their dashboard, track investigation progress, check due dates and required documents, view call-to-action reminders, upload documentation, and learn to use data to increase safety performance. After the SI has reviewed all of the required documents, they will send the carrier a request for a meeting to close out the investigation. Typically, this is done onsite, face-to-face however, since the onset of the pandemic, closeouts are now performed virtually. Reinstatement After Voluntary Revocation of Operating Authority In March 2020, the FMCSA issued multiple exemptions in response to the national health emergency. One of those exemptions included waiving the $80 reinstatement fee for carriers who opted to voluntarily revoke their Passenger Operating Authority.  Carriers with a USDOT pin can login into their profile, update their registration information, and complete an MCSA-5889 form, a Motor Carrier Records Change.  Carriers without a USDOT pin, can register and request a pin number through the FMCSA website. Before submitting a request, carriers will need to file a BOC-3 (Designation of Process Agent), confirm insurance filings are up to date, and make sure that their USDOT number is reinstated and activated. Once these items are completed, the reinstatement request is going to be put on hold until the carrier has everything submitted properly. “If all is submitted and you do have to pay that fee, then you’ll get it reinstated no later than the fourth business day after the payment is processed,” Smith explained. “You can request that the fee is waived, you’re just going to submit it through EMC’s e-mail address rather than doing it through the normal process online.”  FMCSA Ratings The FMCSA issues three types of ratings. Satisfactory, conditional, or unsatisfactory. Satisfactory means that there are safety systems in place and they all appear to be working. Conditional means that there are safety systems in place, but there are breakdowns within some of those systems. While carriers are still able to operate with a conditional rating, some choose not to do so and would rather upgrade their score. Unsatisfactory ratings mean a carrier is considered unfit and are not allowed to operate after that time.  “All of the critical violations are listed within the Read More >

  • Safety Director 101 By:

    Presented as part of ABA’s BISC & BusMARC 2021 Virtual Safety & Maintenance Series As part of their ongoing educational webinar series, the American Bus Association (ABA) hosted a virtual meeting with presenters Mike McDonal, BusMARC chair and director of regulatory compliance and industry relations at Saucon Technologies, and Jeff Marley, regional manager for Lancer Insurance. McDonal and Marley focused on monitoring driver performance, hours of service and remedial driver training and coaching. Monitoring Driver Performance, Hours of Service and Remedial Driver Training According to McDonal, monitoring driver performance has become a much smoother process since the introduction of telematics into the motorcoach industry. “It used to be that once our drivers left the lot, we really didn’t know what they were doing,” McDonal explained. “We now know exactly what is happening all the time. The question now is, what should we actually be monitoring?”  While monitoring activity such as speeding and idling is considered standard practice, the introduction of newer technology now allows for the monitorization of interaction with passengers, vehicle inspections and regular service reports and violations. “Once we determine what we want to look at, we then need to establish how we are going to measure that component, what kind of threshold we are going to use as our standard of an acceptable behavior, and how we are going to apply that to part time versus full-time drivers,” McDonal said.   McDonal noted that with so many ways to monitor driver performance, it is crucial to ensure that a program is well established with obtainable and consistent thresholds for success.  When introducing a company policy, potential considerations should include information that is easy to find and understand, information that is available to the drivers in real time, and driver’s ability to challenge negative reports or violations. “It’s important to measure, not only driver performance, but driver behaviors as well as your expectations of employee conduct,” McDonal explained.” Do not forget to monitor hours. Remember the basics, eight consecutive hours off, ten hours driving, 15 hours on duty, 60 hours in a seven-day period and 70 hours in an eight-day period. Check daily for violations. The biggest concern that we’ve had since day one is drivers forgetting to log off at the end of their day which can put them into a 15-hour violation.” Most systems allow operators to track drivers by the day, week, or month, with customizable scoring parameters and driver review metrics. Allowing drivers to examine and assess their own driving behavior with consistent data enables more effective driver development and provides drivers the opportunity to challenge a report before receiving an official score. Through telematics, accessible reports and alerts are available in real time, enabling drivers and operators to view these alerts directly from their own ELD tablet or cell phone at any time.  Handling drivers with a poor performance matrix “As drivers return, it’s important that they not only recall how to do a proper inspection, but that they know how to use the ELD and any other technology that you may have introduced since they’ve been away,” McDonal said. “We generally go through a coaching process on an individual basis, to determine if the driver needs a bit of additional help or if it’s something that needs more attention.” According to Marley, any effective refresher program should cover mirror adjustments, blind spots, off tracking, pivot points and tail swings.  Mirror Adjustments  The first step of operating a motorcoach is to set the driver’s seat, steering wheel, and mirrors, Marley explained. The driver should have full visibility of their side mirror, with the mirror set flat and a clear view of the drive tire touching the pavement in the bottom righthand corner of the mirror.  The convex mirror distorts the driver’s view and is generally used for larger objects. This mirror should be set similarly to the flat mirror with about an inch of the coach visible on the inside portion of the mirror. Then find the middle marker light on the vehicle and position it in the middle and all the way to the right side of the mirror. Passenger side mirrors should have about an inch of the coach visible on the inside of the mirror with the middle marker light set in the middle and all the way to the inside left of the mirror. The flat mirror should be adjusted depending on highway or intercity driving. Blind Spots  A full-sized motorcoach usually has a 5-foot blind spot in the front and back of the vehicle, as well as on the right passenger side corner.  “Setting your mirrors appropriately is very important when it comes to blind spots,” Marley explained. “If you set your mirrors correctly, you shouldn’t have a problem. Know your coach’s dimensions, especially the height and weight. This is very important to review with returning drivers.” Off Tracking  Off tracking, the tracking of the rear wheels inside of the front wheels, is often a big component in fixed object accidents. Off tracking requires careful consideration from the driver in order to effectively calculate if the back end of the motorcoach is going to fit wherever the front end leads.  Pivot Points  “When I cross that line with the back rest of my seat is when I’m going to start my turn,” Marley said.  “Remember this is city driving so I have my passenger side flat mirror down so I can see my drive tire touching the pavement and I’m going to start my turn. As far as the pivot point goes, that’s when you want to start making your turn.” Tail Swings  According to Marley, any kind of fixed object on the sidewalk or wall is going to require a tail swing when pulling out or away from a curb.  “What a lot of people don’t realize is that you also have front swing,” Marley noted. “When you have front swing is when you’re going in reverse. Now the swing is opposite, it is back to Read More >

  • City of Porterville Expands on Successful Zero-Emission Micro-Transit Program By:

    In the spirit of sustainable community transit, the City of Porterville, California, added 12 all-electric micro-transit vans to its fleet in January.  The decision to embrace sustainable micro-transit resulted from an internal analysis at the Porterville Transit System. First, the agency wanted to replace low-performing fixed routes with routes focused on improved mobility and a more direct approach. Secondly, the agency saw an opportunity to expand mobility into areas which were previously not served – due to either lower ridership or poor connectivity to standing fixed routes. “It came down to not only providing better mobility within our community, but also expanding our service area,” said Richard Tree, transit administrator at Porterville Transit System. Tree said the deployment resulted from an informal bid after the agency reviewed the Class 3 Lightning Electric Transit Van by Lightning eMotors. Terry Scholl, business development manager for Lightning eMotors, said the company developed the vans on the Ford Transit 350 HD chassis. NorCal Vans/Driverge of Chico, California, upfitted the fans to meet ADA requirements, per Porterville’s specifications. The vehicle features a range of 120 miles of travel between charges. If the daily mileage requirement exceeds 120 miles, the vehicle allows for a fast charge that will allow for a 50 percent charge in approximately 45 minutes. The vehicle accommodates between 10 and 16 passengers, depending on wheelchair configuration, “As the van operates, it moves quietly through communities without making a lot of noise and without any emissions,” Scholl said. “Since the vehicle operates on the Ford Transit chassis – one of the most widely sold van products on the market – customers can take advantage of the all-electric setup without forgoing the convenience of their local Ford dealer for service requirements.” Embracing Micro-Transit When explaining the micro-transit concept to local officials, Tree said it helped to compare the service to on-demand applications like Uber or Lyft – embracing technology which allowed for quick-trip scheduling, real-time notifications, and efficient routing software. “Sustainability is also vitally important to us, and we saw this as a great opportunity to test this concept and its cost-effectiveness,” Tree said. After a year into the micro-transit operation, Tree said the city is extremely pleased with the community’s acceptance. Ridership has increased month after month, he said, dating back to April of 2020. Furthermore, the agency is pleased with the micro-transit service’s cost-effective operations. “We have seen an interesting phenomenon,” Tree added. “The service was not necessarily intended to hyper-focus on disabled or senior populations, but many of those riders have gravitated toward the micro-transit model. A high percentage of people have moved from Dial-A-Ride to the on-demand service, which allows for additional capacity in our paratransit vehicles.” The vehicles accommodate either a rear-wheelchair arrangement – as found on Porterville’s vans – or can operate with an optional side-door to accommodate both ambulatory and non-ambulatory passengers. Scholl said that Porterville opted for a higher roof height – an option on these vehicles – and passengers have expressed appreciation. Passengers can board without bending over, stand up, and access grab rails. Expanding the Service The service has performed so well in Porterville, Tree said, that local officials are eager to expand micro-transit to each of the county’s eight operators. “We expect on-demand service, with these electric vehicles, to expand throughout the county within this next year or this calendar year,” he said.  In May, Porterville will launch a new partnership with Uber. Tree said the city hopes to take advantage of Uber’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) and global brand in order to take on-demand transit to the next level. “People are coming to understand Uber as second nature,” Tree said. “Our services will be accessible via the Uber app, and riders can make informed decisions on the best trips for them. Then they can pay within that same Uber app.  of what the cheapest trip option is, and they can pay for their ride, all within the Uber app. It is a truly an exciting time for transit in our county.”