By David Hubbard
With the federal transportation agencies catching it from all sides, the announcement by DOT Secretary Ray LaHood for a full departmental review of motorcoach safety certainly touched a nerve in one operator in Texas.
When I walked into my office early one morning in June, the message light was blinking especially bright. The caller was responding to my column on safety and the Secretary’s good intention. He said he had something to add and would I please call.
That I did. He said he was actually reading BUSRide while standing in line at a Dairy Queen, and felt compelled to relinquish his space to chime in on the accelerated move by DOT to get its arms around the issues once and for all.
His beef over inspectors not doing enough to curb the ubiquitous rogue operators was one I have heard from several different industry sources, and interestingly, a number of other Texas operators — The good want the bad and the ugly off the road.
The trouble with motorcoach inspections as he sees it — and he was adamant in telling me — is any rogue operator that really needs a good going over rarely gets one. I told him I would look into it.
He says state inspectors for DOT are doing what they can to make their job easy, performing compliance reviews and meeting their quotas by beating a path to only the most compliant coach companies whose ducks are always in a row.
From what I am hearing from a variety of industry sources, the gentleman on the phone is bang on when he says the inspectors need to get off their duffs and checkout the rogues running loose. After all, the purpose of the inspection is not to ensure the most compliant stay that way, but to root out the dangerous, non-compliant operators for the safety of others.
The industry has been pushing for inspectors to perform their compliance reviews in all the right places instead of settling for the most convenient places.
Its wish is for the DOT to hold states to higher standards, and hold them accountable for more stringent practices as a condition to receive the federal funds to conduct inspections on its behalf.
Basically, the DOT inspection is a paper review, unlike the Department of Defense (DOD) that inspects at least a percentage of the fleet in addition to the overall quality of company operations.
With 438 DOD-certified bus and motorcoach companies, the question posed to DOT is why go out and review companies already inspected by DOD? Another suggestion from the industry is that DOT recognize and accept all DOD inspections, as they are equivalent or even surpass DOT standards, and give more focus to companies not on the DOD list.
My man back at the Dairy Queen is exactly right. As concerned as most operators are about non-compliant operators carrying passengers in unsafe equipment, they are most happy to alert the inspection teams to the whereabouts of bad operators blatantly running with seeming immunity.
Texas is not alone. The prevailing attitude of inspectors in all but about eight states is that it just takes more time and effort to confront them. With so many knowing who they are and the most likely places to find them, it is clear that inspectors are not doing enough to go after the companies operating under the radar, check them and enforce existing regulations.
I am told FMCSA has the addresses of most passenger carriers, so it should not be that difficult for inspectors to call on any operator they have not seen for sometime, and respond to the clues, hints and tips of those not on the list.
The hope is that a more robust Motorcoach Safety Action Plan would not saddle the best operators with any greater burden while the unsafe and non-compliant culprits are still running loose.
Doesn’t sic’ em mean anything to anyone anymore?