Motorcoach operators can extend their charter services by joining the ranks of the military bus program, one of the few passenger programs provided by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).
To be eligible for charter, a potential bus carrier must first go through the Military Bus Agreement (MBA), which is available nationwide, excluding the state of Hawaii, and has been in place since the 1980s. The MBA involves a series of pre- and post-qualification tests before an operator can become DOD qualified.
These tests ensure that candidates will become familiar with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations, said Carol Mills, traffic management specialist for the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command’s (SDDC) passenger program branch, which monitors the MBA.
A mix of services is incorporated by the MBA and includes an interstate bus service for movements of 60 miles or less, troop mobilization to airports and airfields, military base shuttle service and other annual training activities.
Since DOD passengers don’t have a choice in what type of transportation is provided, the program ensures that safe service will be given to all customers, Mills said. A contractor inspects operators during the candidacy process — at least three times every year and a half.
Candidates are tested during pre-qualification and then afterward for facility, terminal and equipment requirements. During these inspections, driver logs, maintenance reports and evidence of drug and alcohol testing are scrutinized. Then a final, unannounced test is given, based on an operator’s standards of safety and service, including medical certification.
The tests are necessary because anything paid with DOD funds needs to be approved. The SDDC is responsible for providing safe, reliable, quality transportation to all DOD customers, including military and civilians, Mills said.
“There’s no guarantee in this world, but [testing] gives a better understanding of their operations,” Mills explained. “We’re always looking for good, qualified carriers. The approval and inspection process ensures that the carriers have effective drug and alcohol testing programs.”
Carriers are removed from service if their safety fitness rating falls below a satisfactory level, depending on the review board’s decision. Some carriers have failed due to improper levels of drug and alcohol testing, failure to match driver’s logs with hours worked or unsatisfactory equipment conditions, Mills said.
In addition to passing the tests, candidates must submit specific documentation, including the following:
Signed military bus agreement signature sheet.
A copy of operating authority.
Proof of insurance in the proper amount ($5 million for buses).
Current equipment inventory.
Point of contact sheet that includes after hours phone numbers and emergency numbers.
Drug- and alcohol-free workplace certification.
Statement of common financial and administrative control form and notice of affiliation with any other carriers.
The requirements for eligibility also include being in public operation for 12 months and registration with the Central Contractor Registration, which can be obtained at www.ccr.gov or by calling (888) 227-2423. Carriers must also purchase a code issued by the National Motor State Traffic Association.
“This program for the safety, reliability and the quality of the service is a really good deal for us,” said Mitch Chandran, SDDC spokesman.
More information on the military bus program can be found at www.sddc.army.mil under the passenger section.