COVID-19
  • 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 >

Motorcoach
  • Reichert Bus Modernizes Charter Processes with busHive By:

    Dating back to its launch in 1947 with a single school bus, Reichert Bus Service has used its exceptional team and comprehensive services to grow today to 71 daily school district routes, six motorcoaches on the road daily for school sporting events and charter bookings, and a full International Certified maintenance shop. In 2021, Reichert Bus Service migrated from an older, DOS-based software to busHive in order to manage its school trips and charter bookings.  “We had the DOS software in use for close to 20 years when we made the switch,” said Kevra Cherne, vice president of Reichert Bus. “We’re a third-generation company, and we can be slow to change. However, the busHive system seemed too effective to pass up.” busHive for Trips and Charters busHive develops software to streamline workflows and recordkeeping. The company’s charter management technology manages quoting, scheduling, billing and payroll. It also offers integrated solutions for tracking driver compliance and vehicle preventative maintenance.  Gone are the days of using Google Maps to lookup addresses, time, and mileage. busHive’s integration with PC Miler automatically pulls this information for quotes based on Reichert Bus’s pre-selected billing rates. “At the end of the day, we have a really nice, accurate, and professionally-designed quote for the customer,” she said. “The system has streamlined our entire quoting process, along with the customer confirmation process.” “Whether it’s for charters or for school trips, the entire process is fabulous.” The system has a built in, fully integrated dispatching and scheduling display. With the click of a button, the Reichert team can view a calendar and quickly see what equipment they have available each day. This prevents overbooking, and allows them to adjust rates for high-demand days. “We utilize the software’s trip features, as well as invoicing,” Cherne said. “We also utilize its payroll features, but only in terms of processing hours per trip during a pay period. Overall, we find it most effective for entering trips, utilizing dispatch features, and then maintaining trip data for odometer hours, fuel usage, and other factors.” Integration and Ease of Use When faced with a multitude of choices for charter-management software, Cherne said that busHive stood out thanks to its ease of use and ability to integrate with disparate systems already utilized by Reichert Bus. “The system is so user friendly and easy to maneuver,” she said.  “Furthermore,” she added, “I know that technology integration can be a major headache – but busHive is super. Our industry is a lot more blue-collar and less tech-savvy, and you really don’t need to be a ‘computer person’ to effectively use busHive.” The point-and-click functionality of busHive was a major selling point for Reichert Bus, especially when compared to the cumbersome nature of its previous software. “If it’s too complicated, we just won’t use it,” Cherne said. “With busHive, we have the ability to go to the homepage, and quickly click to access all of the data we need to effectively operate. We never need to have six screens open at a time, toggling between them, like we did with our previous software.” Service and Support For Reichert Bus, busHive’s software support has been phenomenal. “When we have a problem, busHive gets back to us right away,” Cherne said. “I prefer email, and some of my staff prefers a phone call, but either way – their response time is almost immediate.” After the initial training period, Cherne said, busHive either answers questions right away or, if the answer is not immediately available, the company gets back to Reichert as soon as possible.  “After training, once we had a few days to digest everything that we went through, busHive would send follow-up emails and make sure that everything was clear for our employees,” she said. “I’ve actually never experienced support on software like we’ve had with busHive, so it’s been a fabulous experience.”

Transit
  • Top 3 Considerations When Electrifying Your Fleet By:

    To effectively combat climate change, we need to reduce carbon emissions from transportation. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the transportation sector relies more heavily on fossil fuels today than virtually any other segment of the economy and accounts for the largest share (37 percent) of energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. Hence, one of the ‘low-hanging fruits’ in global efforts to combat climate change is the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). One of the more attractive sub-segments to encourage a modal shift to lower carbon transport is public transit, through electric buses. This is supported by many state governments which have mandated carbon reductions in public transit, while also offering financial incentives to make this shift. Recent legislation such as the Inflation Reduction Act, which became law on August 16, 2022, will likely help to accelerate this transition. Meanwhile, shifting all of the buses operated by the estimated 6,800 public transit organizations and authorities in the U.S. to EV operations will be a massive and complicated undertaking. It will likely require new charging infrastructure, modernization of the country’s electrical grids, and digital technology to balance energy supply and demand. Let’s consider each of these. (1) EV-olving supporting infrastructure Many bus depots today may not have access to the large volumes of electricity needed to charge dozens or hundreds of vehicles, particularly during periods of peak power consumption. These facilities also tend to be in commercial areas where they may be competing with their neighbors for a limited energy supply.  As a result, transit agencies and fleet operators need to work closely with local power utilities to make sure their electricity needs can be met as they expand their EV fleets. This could require the installation of additional circuits or feeder lines on the local distribution grid, or re-locating  facilities to areas with more robust energy supplies. Also, installing stand-alone charging pedestals for each parking spot in a very space-constrained terminal may not be a practical option. A more centralized, modular, space-optimized system that can provide charging support for large number of vehicles simultaneously could be more viable and affordable.  (2) Powering electric fleets On average, electric buses require between 1.35 and 2kWh for each km driven (or 2.17 to 3.22 kWh per mile). Depending on the size of fleet, this could place significant demand on power grids. Consequential upgrades and modernization could be required to meet this need. One possible option that fleet operators can explore is the development of a renewable energy generation system to provide power locally. Such a system would typically be coupled with a scalable microgrid and battery energy storage solution designed to ensure reliable power availability, grid stability and the highest possible penetration of renewable energy. Together with an intelligent control system for both grid-connected and off-grid systems, this approach can help transit agencies and fleet operators meet their power needs while scaling up their fleet. (3) Managing complexity Transitioning to an electric fleet and its associated infrastructure requires careful planning and forethought. To successfully introduce large numbers of EV buses into their operations, fleet managers need to be considering their end-goals today. How many megawatts are needed to charge the fleet? How much power is required during peak hours? Is there any flexibility in terms of when vehicles need to be charged? Which routes should be converted to EV operations first? To address these questions, fleet operators need to embrace digital technologies. The use of more sophisticated energy management systems can help operators manage fleet charging needs, orchestrate energy supply and demand, and optimize operations. In other instances, it could help smooth out the peaks and valleys of the daily power supply.  Looking Toward an Electrified Future A modal shift to electric transit is already underway and the benefits are obvious – it will reduce carbon footprint, lower costs, and cut harmful emissions, making neighborhoods healthier and cleaner. To be successful, however, fleet operators need to be prepared to scale up quickly. They need to consider their future energy needs when developing their charging infrastructure and align these systems with their existing operational platforms and practices. Finding the right industry partners that have experience navigating these kinds of complex transitions will be invaluable. Together, we will jointly benefit from low-carbon mobility and the journey toward a more sustainable future. Daniel Simounet is VP of Transportation Industry, North America, Hitachi Energy. Contact him at daniel.simounet@hitachienergy.com. Visit www.hitachienergy.com for more information.