‘Recovery’ And ‘Growth’ Were Key Focus Points At 2024 UMA Motorcoach EXPO

Surrounded by other UMA representatives, Immediate Past Chairman David Moody (left-center) and President & CEO Scott Michael cut the ribbon to officially open the 2024 Motorcoach EXPO. (Photo by Harrell Kerkhoff / Busline Magazine)

By Harrell Kerkhoff Busline Magazine Editor

The importance of “recovery” and “growth” from the depths of the COVID pandemic were highlighted during the recent 2024 United Motorcoach Association’s (UMA) Motorcoach EXPO, which took place in February, in Raleigh, NC. The four-day event included an exhibition floor, educational tracks, guest speakers, an awards ceremony, and several celebrations.

Following the Opening Session and Active Member Meeting each year, UMA EXPO attendees receive the annual Legislative & Regulatory Update, which traditionally focuses on recent and possible changes taking place on Capitol Hill that will, or could, impact the U.S. bus and motorcoach industry. The update was presented this year by UMA lobbyist Becky Weber, managing director of the Prime Policy Group; and UMA Vice President of Legislative & Regulatory Affairs & Industry Relations/COO Ken Presley. Weber and Presley addressed several legislative and regulatory questions, asked by UMA Legislative & Regulatory Committee member Alan Thrasher, of Thrasher Brothers Trailways, Birmingham, AL, who served as moderator. Trasher is also the incoming UMA Board Chairman.

It was during this year’s Legislative & Regulatory Update that Presley provided stark numbers indicating just how many private bus/motorcoach companies in the United States went out of business during the pandemic time period. According to Presley, the number of U.S. interstate motorcoach companies in operation at the end of the past five years were:

  • December 2019 — 2,976;
  • December 2020 — 1,480;
  • December 2021 — 1,496;
  • December 2022 — 1,539;
  • December 2023 — 1,558.

“The pandemic was devastating for our industry. So many (companies) suffered while many others totally shut down,” Presley said. “While a lot of (bus/motorcoach operators) received CERTS (Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services) Act money to help them survive, we still lost half our industry that included many good friends.”

According to recent figures, there were 1,558 carriers serving the United States at the end of 2023. That is 52 percent of the number of carriers (2,976) that were in operation just prior to the pandemic.

“It takes a lot of capital to enter the motorcoach business. It’s an industry that tends to grow slowly in terms of new operators,” Presley said. “Currently (at the start of 2024), we are seeing the fewest number of U.S. operators in this business since 1982, which was prior to deregulation.”

He noted, however, there is hope for the future, as demand for bus/motorcoach transportation has been on the rise since the end of the pandemic. With fewer operators, that demand should only grow.

According to Presley and Weber, representatives of UMA will continue to work with the U.S. Congress to help operators succeed in 2024 and beyond. The objective is to guard against regulatory overreach — regulations that would adversely impact the private bus/coach industry.

“Our message (to legislators and regulators) is to do us no harm,” Presley said. “For the most part, we have been able to stave off, as of late, adverse legislation and regulation that would have seriously impacted our industry.

“We all know regulations are expensive and burdensome, while taking away from a company’s ability to capitalize on business opportunities. Given what our industry has just been through due to the pandemic, now is not a good time for burdensome regulations.”

Thrasher brought up continuing efforts for a proposed tax exemption from Congress regarding CERTS money that many bus/motorcoach operators received during the pandemic.

“I don’t know if everybody is aware of this, but of all the relief that the government gave out (due to the pandemic) our industry is the only one that is being forced to pay a tax, on income, from the CERTS money we received,” Thrasher said. “Such businesses as hotels and restaurants didn’t have to pay such a tax. Why should the bus industry, which has suffered so dramatically, have to pay?”

Weber said efforts remain in place for private bus/motorcoach operators to receive an exemption. She noted there has been support for this, over the past two years, in Congress. The challenge is that many congressional members have “COVID fatigue,” meaning they would rather move on to other issues. However, Weber noted the fight will continue.

Possible Regulatory Challenges

Presley provided the following update on various regulatory possibilities that could have an effect — either positively or negatively — on the private bus/motorcoach industry in the future. They include:

  • A proposed rule that Presley called positive would allow people with a CDL license, but not a specific passenger (P) endorsement, to legally drive empty motorcoaches between locations — such as driver away and tow away situations. Currently, only those employees with the proper (P) endorsement — often involving just drivers — are legally allowed to move such equipment.

“This could provide relief for companies by allowing their professional drivers more time to concentrate on revenue trips rather than moving an empty coach,” Presley said.

  • There is concern with a possible change involving the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) regulations, Presley said. A proposed new rule would replace the current three-tier SFD rating system (i.e., satisfactory–conditional–unsatisfactory) for motor carriers with a single “SFD – unfit.”

“On the surface that may sound OK, except our industry works with a large number of customers who are used to looking for that ‘satisfactory’ rating,” Presley said. “That includes many colleges, universities, and public schools. Absent of that ‘satisfactory’ rating, such customers may look to third parties to score individual bus/motorcoach companies. That can become expensive (for such companies). Therefore, we would like to see the ‘satisfactory’ rating for at least passenger carriers to stay in place.”

  • Presley also noted issues pertaining to advanced technology, such as electronic vehicle identifiers used with QR codes, that can keep track of past violations involving specific buses/coaches. The concern is, a company could purchase a bus/coach with a past violation, and that violation may then be tied to the company making the purchase, although it did not own the vehicle when the actual violation took place.
  • One proposal that Presley called “very concerning” is a speed limiter device requirement for buses/coaches, involving maximum speeds as low as 60 to 62 miles per hour.

“That has potential to cause some real economic harm for our industry, when considering how many of our trips often come close to maximizing a 10-hour work limit per day for drivers. It could put a tremendous amount of pressure on a company’s driver pool, requiring more relief drivers,” Presley said.

  • One possible (and positive) rule change, Presley said, involves FMSCA’s proposal for the development and implementation of a federal appeals process involving Requests for Data Review (RDRs), submitted to the agency through its DataQs system. DataQ is an online system for motor carriers, commercial motor vehicle drivers and other interested parties to use in order to request and track a review of federal and state crash and inspection data submitted to, and stored by, FMCSA that the requester believes is incomplete or incorrect.

The proposed process would give users, such as bus/coach operators, the opportunity to have their requests reviewed by FMCSA itself, after all earlier requests had been reviewed and denied by a state agency. FMCSA involvement would ensure an independent review for such requests. The outcome of the FMCSA review would be deemed final.

“In other words, FMCSA is proposing it would handle the final appeal once an operator has exhausted all other appeals involving the DataQ,” Presley said. “If there’s one thing FMSCA is really good at, it’s interpreting their own regulations. My guess is, if that proposal goes through, it will put added pressure on states to interpret such regulations correctly.”

  • There is more talk about requiring new U.S. bus/motorcoach entrant representatives to take a proficiency exam.

“On the surface, we (at UMA) have supported that idea in the past. While we don’t like to see burdensome regulations, it does make sense for a new entrant operator to fully understand FMSCA regulations before starting a business,” Presley said. “Of course, the devil is in the details, but on the surface, this looks like something we could support. However, it’s not a proposed rule yet.”

  • Presley also addressed FMCSA’s recent removal of over 15,000 medical examiners, used by bus/motorcoach and trucking companies for their driver physical qualification examinations, after the examiners failed to update their required national medical registry profile information.

“It involves about 15 percent of the current pool of medical examiners,” Presley said. “The main thing is, make sure your examiners are properly listed in the medical registry.”

Charter Service Rule Reminder

Discussed as well at the Legislative & Regulatory Update was the importance of private U.S. bus and coach operators to update their company information involving the Charter Service Registry, which is associated with the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Charter Service Rule.

According to FTA, the rule protects private charter operators from unauthorized competition with FTA grant recipients, such as public transit agencies. In essence, charter regulations are implemented to ensure that transit agencies, subsidized with federal money, do not unfairly compete with privately-owned bus companies. Under the charter rule, with limited exceptions, local transit agencies are restricted from operating chartered services. The registry allows private charter providers to receive notices from FTA of upcoming charter opportunities.

Presley added that private charter operators must register on a bi-annual basis. Private operators are urged to contact UMA with any questions.

“Registering is fast and easy, but it must be done every two years,” Presley stressed.

The 2025 UMA Motorcoach EXPO is scheduled for February 20-23, in Oklahoma City, OK.

Share on Socials!

Related Articles

Related Articles

Victor Valley Transit Authority Celebrates 30 Years Of Service Excellence

VVTA CEO Nancie Goff, center, received a proclamation from the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, announcing every October 20th for the next 5 years in ...
Read More

SORTA Board Welcomes Four New Trustees

Members of Metro’s governing body, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) Board of Trustees, swore in four new members, marked the reappointment of two sitting ...
Read More

Officials Unveil First Pulse Dempster Line Station In Des Plaines, IL, Before ‘Sneak Peek’ Service Starts

Left: Officials unveil the real-time information marker at the first Pulse Dempster Line station in Des Plaines. Right (L-R): Des Plaines Mayor Andrew Goczkowski; Pace Executive ...
Read More

Follow Busline!

Subscribe!

Sign up to receive our industry publications for FREE!