By David Hubbard
Politicians speaking on the motorcoach industry should really do a better job to differentiate one motorcoach operation from another to avoid the danger of making public statements that drag down the fully compliant 95 percent in the eye of the public.
Such is the case with the recently released NTSB study on curbside carriers, in which U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)) and U.S. Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) had requested. Each spoke on the subject a few weeks ago and tended to lump all curbside carriers into one dismal lot.
BUSRide has taken the position that curbside service is neither the problem nor a bad word. Why this operational model has become the bane of the industry is a clear and present danger has less to do with where these companies pick up and deliver passengers and everything to do with their preference for anonymity, dangerous cost cutting and abject disregard for safety.
Speaking to this point on behalf of the fully compliant, Dale Moser, president and COO of Megabus.com, Chicago, IL, spoke with BUSRide to discuss his frustration with how and why he thinks federal commercial vehicle inspectors have played to a stalemate in this ongoing saga.
In his own words, here is what Moser had to say on the subject:
Megabus fully supports the NTSB federal review of all motorcoach carriers and the enforcement of the current regulations across the board. Equal enforcement throughout the industry is precisely what is missing.
Whatever the name we want to give them — rogues, reincarnates, ghosts — this is a segment of the industry that is not compliant, and Megabus will do everything to help them find these companies and make sure they receive the same review as the rest. This is the total issue.
Inspectors are constantly at the doors of Greyhound, Megabus, CoachUSA, Coach America, Peter Pan Bus Lines and others in the top 98 percent of top rate coach companies. I oversee 24 companies, and a week doesn’t go by that I don’t have one of the state or federal regulators in one these companies conducting a review.
They know where we are, our offices, garages, training facilities and curbside pickup points. They can inspect a hundred coaches at a time if they need, go through vehicle and driver files. We are easy to find and an open book.
Putting it very diplomatically, there are in fact small carriers that come out of certain markets, and they transport passengers to other same markets in other cities, and the NTSB nailed them in its review.
The claim by the inspection agencies is they can’t find these curbside carriers — again, a broad statement. BoltBus, Peter Pan and Megabus are curbside carriers, and they certainly find us at our Boston station and Union Station in New York, and our curbside locations.
The culprits they can’t seem to find are the carriers without approval for the locations where they make stops.
It is incredulous that they have known about these operations for years and have just not done anything about the dangers that continue with this group.
We do not need to new regulations. In fact, they have one out there right now I really take issue with. It gives regulators and inspectors the authority to arbitrarily stop a bus or coach with passengers aboard en route to conduct inspections without probable cause.
If they had already inspected our buses at point of departure or termination, or at our facilities, then why stop en route for no reason? It is another issue if in fact they observe something amiss, broken or erratic with the vehicle or its operation. Absolutely, stop the bus, we encourage that.
To be able to pull our buses off the highway for no cause and do an arbitrary 30-minute or longer inspection with passengers is extremely detrimental to the timely service we provide, and in fact could further lead to hours of service and driver infractions.
The question needs to be asked to those overseeing all modes of transportation — air, rail and highway: When is the last time you pulled an Amtrak train over between D.C. and Newark with passengers on board to do a spot inspection? When was the last time you called an airliner back to the airport after it had taken off from Baltimore? Or, called one down mid-flight to make an unscheduled stop in another city to inspect?
I have asked this question to officials when I have been in Washington, D.C. They, of course, say they have not. Then why pull bus companies over?
To keep hearing they can’t find these carriers is hard for any legitimate, compliant carrier to swallow because we all know where they are, along with the thousands of passengers who ride these carriers every day.
Our biggest challenge of late has been to communicate with those trying to enhance the regulations and introduce new legislation with regard to inspections, to inform them their effort is directed toward what is best described as an industry minority — that smallest percentage of carriers who in all respects operate totally non-compliant.
Ninety-five percent of the industry complies with the legislation as currently written and does not have issues. This other 5 percent, no matter what anyone does or says, figures out a way to avoid all matters of compliance. They won’t because they don’t think they really have to. It is incredulous to see this group routinely left out of the inspection process while inspectors give their attention to the upper 95 percent. Even those rogue operators that are shut down find a way to open up the next day under another name.
The federal government has made it too easy and too affordable to enter the bus transportation industry.
For example: The minimum insurance combined single-limit liability for a carrier has not increased from $5 million since 1968. Even the smaller, most compliant operators are taking it on themselves to insure for more than the minimum because they know it is right.
My point: Regulators do not enforce the law evenly across the board. We support and encourage — and perhaps demand — that this be the rule and not the exception.
Megabus operates from a safety culture, with the best safety program in terms of hiring, training and investing and equipping our equipment to monitor safety and protect our passengers.
To be lumped in with these rogue carriers that so blatantly fail to comply is not fair. And speaking for every one of the 95 percent, this is extremely disturbing.
The fact that we, too, pick up passengers at the curb is the only common denominator. The companies in question stop their buses in non-approved areas, and their list of non-compliant issues is too long to go into detail.
In no sense of the work is this equal enforcement across the board, and somewhere along the way someone knows that this is the case. Meanwhile, the rogues continue to run on the belief they really don’t have to comply, playing the odds at every turn.
Just as a point of history: About five years ago Coach USA actually bought one of these companies with the idea of partnering, thinking it could help clean up this segment.
This was an eye-opening experience to say the least. We only held on to that company for six months. We recognized immediately this was not even close to the association we envisioned with this operator. We were simply not able to change the culture of that business or inspire them to operate any differently, and we made a very quick exit. That company is still operating today under the old management.
Operators can indeed police themselves by staying in close communication with the trade associations, ABA and UMA, and with the media such as BUSRide, sharing what they see occurring by all means.
We have to do all we can to get the bad actors off the road and enlarge the true picture of this industry.