Concern — and confusion — is rising in the motorcoach industry about language in a Senate transportation bill that suggests that public transit agencies could openly compete with private operators for charter trips for schools and non-profit organizations such as churches.
The wording in the provision says transit systems that operate 4,000 or fewer vehicles in fixed-route peak-hour service "may provide incidental charter bus transportation directly to local governments and social service entities with limited resources."
Reaction has been swift and strong. Norm Littler, the United Motorcoach Association's legislative affairs expert, said the language, if unchanged before the bill is approved, would allow unfair government competition and might be the "death blow" for coach operators who rely heavily on charter work.
But Pete Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association (ABA), said such concerns are premature. He said the intent of the provision is far from how it's being interpreted.
The intent, Pantuso said, is to allow, for example, a mayor to hire a transit bus to shepherd state legislators around the city to showcase its transit services. Another example would be for a transit system to provide charter service to non-profit agencies that can’t afford to pay for transportation services.
“We’re not crazy about the language,” Pantuso said. “The challenge is trying to put in some definitions to make sure that that is, in fact, all they’re allowed to do, that it doesn’t include government agencies, i.e., the schools, or moving a convention when it comes to town.”
Pantuso said the ABA and the American Public Transportation Association testified before the Senate Banking Committee several months ago in an effort to resolve broad-based concerns about unfair transit competition. One outgrowth was the controversial charter provision in the committee's bill.