President Bush signed into law a bill that could force bus and motorcoach companies to compile detailed information on their passengers before crossing the U.S. border.
Under the Enhanced Border Security Act, HR 3525, commercial vessels must compile and electronically send a detailed passenger manifest to officials before crossing an international border. The manifest must include each passenger's name, address, date of birth, sex, citizenship, passport number and country of issuance, country of residence, visa and/or alien registration number and date and place of visa issuance.
The law makes provision for a two-year feasibility study, conducted by the President, to determine how the law will be implemented and to whom it will apply.
Whether the Border Security Act will affect motorcoach operators remains to be seen. Collecting manifest information for every passenger would be greatly burdensome for bus and motorcoach operators, especially those who carry itinerant riders without identification documents.
"Manifesting is not practical for our industry because most of our services are not provided on a per-person ticket," said Linda Darr, vice president of policy and external affairs at the American Bus Association (ABA). "Our people don't necessarily even have the terminals or ticket counters to be able to administer such a system."
The United Motorcoach Association (UMA) is working to convince the Bush Administration that the border security law need not apply to the motorcoach industry. However, another almost identical measure was introduced, called the Customs Border Security Act (HR 3129), which makes no provision for a two-year study. The customs act calls for an implementation date of 45 days after the bill is signed into law.
"We have asked Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) to offer a conforming amendment to the bill that would bring it into line with the Border Security Act. That would give us the opportunity for the study," said Norm Littler, UMA vice president of government affairs.
As the southern U.S. border opens in the summer under NAFTA, additional border regulation guidelines are being discussed. The UMA and ABA hope to ensure that the newer security measures, many of which were added after Sept. 11, will not impede motorcoach traffic between NAFTA partner countries. "We have to be very careful not to simply lock the country up and close it off, or the economy is going to crash," said Littler.
In cooperation with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), bus and motorcoach representatives are also working to ensure that vehicles entering the U.S. under NAFTA are compliant with federal safety standards.
Motor vehicle safety will be further promoted by the new entrant rule that was published by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the DOT. Starting Jan. 1, new motor carriers will be granted 18-month probationary interstate operating authority and asked to demonstrate their knowledge of and compliance with federal regulations before receiving permanent authority. These requirements are similar to those issued earlier this year for Mexican companies wanting to conduct business in the U.S.