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
  • Napaway Sleeper Coach Service Aims for Comfort By:

    A premium sleeper coach service is looking to compete with airlines and improve travel in the US by merging the convenience of coach travel with the comfort of a business class suite.  Napaway founder and CEO Dan Aronov explained that the company’s goal is to provide genuine comfort, privacy, and flexibility to travelers seeking a restful and convenient alternative to air travel. “I’d been taking coaches for a very long time,” Aronov said. “And the thought was if we can make it this comfortable while using a platform that is that convenient, it could be a really interesting marriage of those two things.”  Establishing an elevated level of passenger comfort was a top priority for Aronov, but spatial restrictions proved to be a challenge. With most premium arrangements designed for airline business class seats, adapting them for a standard size coach would require extensive and costly modification. After searching the existing market, Aronov discovered Butterfly Flexible Seating, a Hong Kong based design and engineering group offering an award-winning and globally patented seat design. Aronov began working closely with the Butterfly Co-Founders, Creative Director James Lee and Commercial Director Lars Rinne, in an effort to create a comfortable and cost-effective seat adaptation for the coach industry. “Initially it started with their concept and discussing if it was something that we could make work on the road,” Aronov said. “It took a fair amount of work to get that there and I’d say it’s been a partnership of working together and developing as we go.” The final result is a personal suite measuring 5 feet by 3.3 feet and featuring 13.2 square feet of usable space. Within the suite are a set of two Butterfly seats which can both be left upright in office mode, one laid flat converting it into lounge mode, or both laid flat to create a 6.5-foot-long, 40″ wide, fully flat bed with Napaway providing an additional half-inch memory foam mattress pad. Sheets, blankets, a full-sized pillow, an amenity kit, and a pull-down screen door provide additional comfort and privacy. Two 14-inch by 13-inch fold-out desks are available for additional work or storage space. “Dan wanted something that is also really good for business travel,” Lee said. “What we developed together was something that’s very private, but you can still turn it back into a seat so that you can have a very nice area to spread things around. It’s much easier to work for business travels.” With a purely mechanical design, Napaway’s convertible sleeper seats don’t rely on electric power, resulting a longer lasting, more reliable system. The same feature also enables the coach (a Prevost H3) to transform the 18 flatbed suites into 36 upright seats for shorter distances. “This flexibility allows operators to make use of the equipment much better,” Lee said. “For operators, that is a huge part of the cost and if you have a coach sitting around doing nothing during the day, it’s a waste of this resource. This design provides a lot of flexibility in that sense.” Napaway is preparing to launch from the Mid-Atlantic this spring, with service between Washington DC and Nashville.  “Eventually we want this to be a national network, both connecting major cities with one another and offering the convenience of doing that without having to deal with all of the hassle and stresses of air travel,” Aronov said. “And also connecting secondary cities where maybe there’s not so many convenient flight options and where a lower capacity type of travel makes sense versus having to fill a 100-seat airplane.”

Transit
  • Taking a 360 Vision on Zero Emissions By:

    By Sebastian Vaitus At Vontas we believe the future of transit is zero emissions. We are developing, integrating, and innovating bus and rail solutions to help agencies switch to zero emissions with support for no emission vehicles of all kinds across all our products. We’re committed to easing the transition away from fossil fuels in transit and making sure all your systems support you along the way. Vontas is at the forefront of this transition and providing guidance based on our experience with agencies across North America and around the world. For transit agencies to go green, there is more to it than deploying new vehicles. Regardless of the zero-emission solution you choose, the systems that run and manage your fleet have to be able to support the unique requirements of no-emission vehicles. These aren’t your parent’s buses or trains, these are technologically complex pieces of equipment with their own needs that touch every part of your agency. You must account for how long it takes to re-charge a bus, new maintenance regimes, new safety requirements, new scheduling requirements, and new workforce training—and not all software providers are stepping up to the challenge. We’ve looked at the state of the industry. We’ve looked ahead to the obstacles we have to overcome. And we’re more galvanized than ever to step up to the challenge head on. One thing that drives us at Vontas is our spirt of innovation. We see the tremendous opportunity public transit has right now to make even more of a difference in people’s lives—and the environment. But to fully leverage this opportunity for a new public transit renaissance, we need newer and more advanced management technologies than we’ve had before. Switching to zero emissions fleets will be a decades-long process. There isn’t a quick fix. There’s no magic bullet. Simple solutions, simply won’t work. To reach the goal we want to achieve—zero emissions and carbon neutral fleets—it’s going to take a concerted effort from all of us. Only when technology partners, manufactures, agencies, cities, and utilities collaborate is it going to work. Vontas is here for the long haul to support this bold vision—a 21st century Moon shot—and develop the software solutions needed for the green transition. Even today’s fossil fuel-powered buses are more advanced than those just a few years ago. Onboard telematics, Wi-Fi, and passenger information solutions need to be integrated with ITS and yard management (YM). Then these must integrate with asset management (EAM), workforce management (WM), and scheduling systems. And everything must come together into single views for reporting and dashboards. You can’t run an agency when systems run in isolation from the rest of the organization. Everything in the office, outside in the yard, CAD/AVL for operators, even traveler experience solutions for customers need a 360-degree view of the operation. EAM and YM make sure buses are lined up and ready to pull out. ITS, Dispatch, and WM give drivers exact details of where their bus is and once they get behind the wheel, how it’s doing. These systems work together help your agency meet its environmental goals. Knowing and seeing the big picture, being able to see the forest and the trees, gives your agency the information to make real data-driven decisions that help the community, passengers, and the larger world. A key part in transitioning to a greener future is training new and existing employees on how green technologies work, managed, and maintained. As an OEM provider of key components for bus operators, we’re dedicated to supporting you with programs to bring everyone up to speed and build a solid workforce for the future. As we transition fleets to zero-emissions, we need to help train a new generation of operators, mechanics, and support personnel how these systems work and integrate with each other. As part of Modaxo, Vontas is in a unique position to help transit agencies across departments and systems. Vontas ITS and YM solutions integrate with Trapeze EAM, WM, MPS, and MoD solutions to give your agency the 360 degree view you need of your entire operation. Sebastian Vaitus is the vice president, new product initiatives at Vontas, where he focuses on bringing new innovative products to the market based on evolving industry trends and customer needs. Sebastian’s 20-year career in transportation started with launching new self-service solutions in the airline industry with IBM, followed by dedicating his focus to the planning and implementation of Ontario’s PRESTO fare collection system alongside Metrolinx and Scheidt & Bachmann, and finally driving new Mobility on Demand solutions with TripSpark Technologies before joining Vontas.