In a 55-page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued in February, the FTA has recommended a major overhaul of the regulations that prohibit public transit agencies from providing charter bus services.
The proposal signals the end of a long process to determine a new set of rules that will hopefully put an end to the frequent disputes between public transit agencies and private bus operators.
Much of the new provisions were developed in monthly meetings of the Charter Bus Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee, which took place between May and December 2006. However, the committee was unable to come to an agreement on a few major factors, including what trips and services constitute charter services.
Picking up where that committee left off, the FTA and its attorneys drafted proposed regulations that will make the process more transparent; streamline the complaint, hearing and appeals process; and give the FTA the discretion to determine the best solution when the rules are violated.
“The process was long but fair,” said Clyde Hart, senior vice president for government affairs at the American Bus Association. “All of the issues were discussed by all members of the committee, and having all sides in the room promoted a lot of education about what the public and private sectors do. The FTA now has a great understanding of both sides of the issue, which really informed the proposed rule that they put out.”
Some of the highlights of the proposal include:
The definition of charter service. The FTA’s proposal says that three elements must be present to be considered charter service: the transportation of a group of persons pursuant to a single contract with a third party; a fixed charge; and an itinerary determined by someone other than the agency. Services that are not considered charter, include adding equipment or days to an existing route; extending service hours on an existing route; and demand-response service that is part of a coordinated public service by the agency.
FTA charter registration Website. The FTA will establish a Website that will require charter operations to complete a registration process if they want to be considered for charter work. The site will also serve as a clearinghouse for requests received by public transit agencies. For its part, if a public transit agency cannot provide the services under one of the exceptions, it must decline the opportunity and direct the client to the Website.
A more streamlined complaint process. Citing its inability to enforce cease-and-desist orders, the FTA’s proposal eliminates the provision and creates an easier process that establishes timelines throughout the entire process. The proposed rules also give the FTA the power to make an initial ruling or to refer the matter to a neutral decision maker when a complaint is filed.
To view the entire document, visit http://www.fta.dot.gov/regional_offices_federal_register.html, under the “Charter Service Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” heading.