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While the signing of the surface transportation bill (MAP-21
) in July is bringing stability to the transit industry as they move forward with capital projects over the next two years, it also focused on the commercial vehicle industry in a way that has never been seen before.
The bill mandated that an easy-to-use grading system, similar to those use for restaurants in several cities, be created to make it easier for consumers to make decisions when hiring a commercial company. The legislation also created a multi-tiered motorcoach safety program, both inside and outside the vehicle, and required public and private entities forge partnerships to solve transportation issues in communities around the nation.
“We got several things in MAP-21 that we asked for,” says Clyde Hart Jr., sr. VP, government affairs and policy, for the American Bus Association (ABA). “Not everything, obviously, it is legislation. In this case, though, we are pretty happy with the results.”
“To me this is the perfect example of how Congress should work,” adds United Motorcoach Association (UMA) President/CEO Victor Parra. “This was a real partisan decision. It involved compromise and give and take, and that’s what it takes to govern this country.”
One highly publicized aspect of MAP-21 was the late addition of Sen. Charles E. Schumer’s (D-NY) proposal mandating the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to create a simple and understandable rating system that allows passengers to compare the safety performance of each bus company and to annually reevaluate carriers that serve primarily urban areas with high passenger loads, such as New York.
The bill also requires the U.S Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) to improve the accessibility of the ratings to the public and to consider requirements that ratings be posted on buses, at terminals and at all points of sale. Schumer is urging the FMCSA to make that safety rating plan a letter grade system, similar to that used in restaurants in several cities around the U.S.
“Bus companies will no longer be able to mask poor safety records, and consumers are now able to see, before they purchase a ticket, whether the bus they are considering getting on is a safe one,” Schumer said in a statement following the passage of the bill. “This is a significant victory for consumers and will serve as a major incentive for operators to get serious about safety, or risk losing passengers.”
Schumer’s bill has for the most part been well-received by the industry.
“We’re all for anything that makes it easier for customers and consumers to find good operators, and if you tried to use the FMCSA’s system, it could be daunting sometimes,” says Hart.
Schumer’s legislation was proposed in the wake of two highly publicized accidents, including one last March when a low-cost carrier heading from Connecticut to Chinatown crashed between the Bronx and Westchester, killing 15 passengers.
“It could ultimately be a valuable tool to help quality companies sell their service, rather than being treated more as a commodity, and the competition being most strongly on rates,” says Jack Wigley, president/CEO of Mesa, Ariz.-based All Aboard America! “The key is that the information on the site be accurate and kept current.”
Under the terms of MAP-21, rulemaking for the so-called “Grading System” is set to be completed by October 2013. What is unclear is how this will impact the FMCSA’s Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program, or how that system would somehow be combined with the newly proposed program.
“CSA has done a better job in collecting data and raising awareness about safety, but the current CSA is not an end-all solution to assess the safety fitness of a carrier. The safety assessment of a commercial carrier has to be more than just a few data points during a very limited time,” says Jared Stancil, executive VP, Nashville, Tenn.-based Anchor Trailways. “To be able to provide a complete safety assessment, the proposed grading system will have to address the many variables in a motor carrier’s operations, the various interpretations of current and future laws, and require a hands-on approach when assigning a grade.”
“A lot of people were very supportive of the grading system, and on the surface, it seems like a very straightforward and easy way for consumers to evaluate the safety fitness of a carrier,” adds Parra. “Let’s just wait and see how it plays out.”