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Optimism filled the air at the United Motorcoach Association
's (UMA) Expo 2012, with many operators looking for a positive year ahead as the nation's economic downturn slowly fades into the distance.
During the "Opening Session: Year of the Motorcoach Professional" a group of operators from around the nation discussed, in a roundtable-type setting, both the trials and tribulations of 2011 as well as the year ahead, touching on several subjects including what new initiatives did and didn't work at their operations.
The prevailing message of the session was that 2011 seemed to be an up and down year, with many operations seeing both decreases and increases in business at different times of the year, based on both abnormal weather conditions and the economy. Many also agreed the escalation of fuel prices and the dip in business was particularly hard on them financially, forcing most to explore new avenues of business and some to run leaner through the cutting of expenses and staff. Despite the roller coaster year behind them, the operators were ready to dive full speed ahead into 2012.
"I'm excited about 2012 for both our business and the industry," said Mike Costa of Yankee Bus Lines in Boston. Costa also urged the industry to explore advertising campaigns promoting motorcoach travel similar to the successful one taken on by CSX, which touted the freight rail industry.
NTSB Chairman Deborah A. Hersman lauded the industry for its safety, but added that there is still room for improvement.
Also on hand for the event, held Feb. 8 to 12 at the Long Beach Convention Center in California, were National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Deborah A. Hersman and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne Ferro, who both lauded the industry and offered their support for keeping it a successful and safe mode of travel.
While citing Willie Nelson's song "On the Road Again," Hersman applauded operators for adapting the way they do business to help generate growth and maintain the industry's "great safety record."
"We know how safe the industry is and want to see more people getting back on buses," Hersman said, adding that while motorcoach safety in 2011 was good overall, the spate of tragic accidents that took place over the course of the year has had a way of poorly reflecting the industry in the eyes of the traveling public.
Hersman also discussed how the industry's safety record could be improved from the NTSB's perspective, including eliminating fatigued drivers and fringe operators that operate outside the margins as well as improving occupant safety. While discussing new safety features on today's buses, she stressed that the modern technology is only effective if the operators are well trained before putting the onus on owners to set the tone.
"Safety culture starts at the top," Hersman said. "You can't expect employees to do better than yourself. You have to do what you can do to increase your posture to prevent accidents."
During her speech, Ferro stated that safety is the U.S. Department of Transportation's (U.S. DOT) number one priority and that it is doing all it can to prevent motorcoach accidents and save lives, especially in the wake of well-publicized accidents that made 2011 the worst year for the industry by fatalities.
"It was a real wake-up call for us," said Ferro, before discussing the FMCSA's refined oversight plan, including an unprecedented number of federal, state and local strike forces performing inspections to help find and remove passenger carriers that present potential risks to the public.
Ferro also discussed the state of several safety initiatives and regulations, including system changes to the Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program, which will enable operators to challenge accidents that appear on their Safety Measurement System report. The FMCSA is also working on refining the appearance of CSA data and launching a smart phone app that will allow potential customers to view an operation's safety record information.
Ferro also touched on the FMCSA's decision to discuss possibly changing the hours-of-service rule for the motorcoach industry, the revisions being made to the electronic on-board recorders rule and a certification program for medical examiners providing U.S. DOT-required operator physicals.