Management & Operations

FTA charter negotiations end

Posted on January 11, 2007

The FTA-sponsored negotiated rulemaking to determine a new standard for conducting charter operations reached agreement on the many outstanding issues before it.

The negotiation, which concluded Dec. 7 after seven months of meetings, failed, however, to reach agreements on a few critical issues, including the foundational issue of exactly what trips and services constitute charter operations.

The negotiation team, comprising members and representatives of both public and private entities and associations, had been meeting regularly in an attempt to arrive at an agreement. In the end, the complexity of the issues and existing federal mandates, as well as the specific demands of each group, led to the less-than-hoped-for result.

“Yes, we didn’t reach agreement on the definition of charter as well as a few other important provisions, but I think we did find a fair amount of common ground,” said Vic Parra, president of the United Motorcoach Association.

Parra said the proceedings also helped to increase awareness and improve understanding of existing charter regulations. “For example, Brian Scott in Largo, Fla., recently received a call from his local transit authority sending charter work his way,” he says. “This was a first.”

The meetings also helped to educate the FTA of the private sector’s concerns about transit systems unfairly competing with them for charter work, Parra added.

At the final meeting, the FTA and both teams of negotiators made vigorous attempts to reach agreement, but in the end, time expired without a complete resolution. Under the rules of the proceedings, unanimous consent was required for agreement.

The negotiations led to agreements on many issues, including the adoption of procedures for creating advisory opinions to examine potential charter trips to assure adherence to the regulations, the nature of groups that could be included for exempt trips and a simple, online procedure for private-sector operators to register for notification of charter opportunities.

While successes were several, they were overshadowed in the end by the issues that did not reach a resolution. In addition to the failure of the group to define “charter operations,” the negotiations also failed to come to an agreement on whether to use administrative law judges to hear violation disputes, how to create a procedure to make records of exempt and thus permitted charter trips conducted by transit agencies available for scrutiny to avoid unnecessary complaints, and the final nature of many of those special exemptions.

Costs, as expected, also formed the basis of several unresolved issues, with the public representatives seeking flexibility in offering specific charitable service and the private sector arguing that services needed to be priced using fully allocated costs.

The agreed-upon portions of the regulations emanating from the negotiation will form a partial basis for the FTA to now complete the creation of a proposed set of charter rules. The process of reaching a final set of clear and comprehensive charter rules is anticipated to be resolved in mid- to late-2007.

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