By Melanie Hinton
As the ABA Director of Communications, I have a number of interactions with our members both on the motorcoach and travel side of the association. Most interactions are fun and a good time – like seeing everyone at Marketplace – and some are serious and intense – like when I help members who have had an accident and need crisis communications assistance (which by the way, is FREE with your ABA membership.) But this week, I had an educational opportunity, interacting with those who focus on helping to keep our industry safe.
I was invited to attend the annual National Park Police/D.C. Metropolitan Police/Virginia State Police unannounced Level 1 safety inspection, occurring at Hain’s Point in Washington, D.C. this week. While the inspection week is usually the same time every year, this year’s inspections happened to coincide with D.C.’s famous Cherry Blossoms being at peak bloom, so tourists and student groups around the world were in town to see these annual gems.
According to locals, the Cherry Blossom blooms are the “unofficial” harbinger of the high tourist season in town as school trips and family “spring-breakers” come to Washington to visit the world-class museums, walk the hallowed halls of government and see the landmarks that make D.C. one of “THE” destinations to visit. While there are always tour buses driving around town, this time of the year it looks like a sea of motorcoaches around the National Mall.
Speaking to the people running this week’s inspections, I gathered a few nuggets about how the inspections work, what is the average of Out of Service tags given and the general knowledge that as we head into our busy season, inspectors consider this their busy season too. It will not be uncommon over the next few months to see inspectors at major destinations and landmarks checking vehicles to ensure the customers we are carrying are in safe hands. During this week’s inspections they expect to look under the hood of nearly 150 vehicles, which is close to the 130 inspected last year. Unlike the national Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance national inspection week in early June each year, which just focuses on motorcoaches and trucks, this week’s inspections are including school buses, motorcoaches and anything else that has 15 or more passengers riding inside, as well as trucks since there is a weight restriction on the roads around the tidal basin.
The event invitation came because Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Ray Martinez was on hand to observe the process. This gave me an excellent opportunity to chat with the Administrator about the industry and the role that ABA plays. According to the Administrator, he enjoys working with the industry and associations like ABA because our members set the bar high on safe and reliable motorcoaches. He wants to work with ABA and our members to weed out the bad actors and keep our passengers safe. “The best operators are the ones who make the commitment to come in and be the best they can be and join associations, so they stay on top of all the rules and regulations. We want to reduce the barriers to being successful.”
He also stated that new companies that want to come into the industry need to join associations as a commitment to safety.
So, what were my take-aways from this experience?
- Level 1 inspections have a 37-point checklist.
- Inspectors are ramping up inspections as the tourist season ramps up.
- One should only fill their gas tank 95 percent full to keep “sloshing” gas from coming out of the cap (you will be inspected on that).
- You must have your valid medical card on you at all times or at the very least a picture of it on your phone. No card? Even first-time offenders will get an Out of Service.
- If you pass inspection, you get a sticker on your windshield that says you don’t need to be inspected for another 90 days.
- The buses that failed inspections this week: did not have exit doors that could open and close; blocked or non-operational exit doors; lacked records like medical cards and correct licenses (a number of sprinter vans did not have any of the correct licenses and certificates); were leaking fuel; and were missing too many bolts on the wheels.
I realize inspections can be quite aggravating and time-consuming for many, but they are necessary to catch the bad actors out there. I witnessed a few ABA members come through the inspection line and the inspectors were happy to see them as one made a comment to me “this company right here, they are always on top of everything. This will be an easy one.”
As the administrator said, we are all in this together to make sure that our vibrant industry keeps the reputation for safely moving millions of passengers each year.
If you ever need communications assistance, you can reach Melanie at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-218-7220