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FMCSA shuts down another bus firm; action exposes holes in regulatory operations

The FMCSA said H & W Tour had been operating without proper authority since Jan. 1, 2006. But on Dec. 14, 2006, the agency granted the carrier a satisfactory safety rating following a compliance review.

By LYNDON FINNEY
The Trucker Staff

6/30/2011

WASHINGTON — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration revealed early this morning that it had declared another so-called discount tour bus company as an imminent hazard and ordered it to cease operation. But in doing so, the agency may well have exposed a gaping hole in its own checks and balances system.

The FMCSA said in a news release issued early Thursday that on Wednesday it had told Georgia-based H & W Tour Inc. to immediately cease all intrastate and interstate passenger service.

It did so, the release said, within hours of the agency uncovering violations “so widespread as to demonstrate a continuing and flagrant general disregard” for the safety of its passengers and the motoring public.”

The FMCSA said that evidence obtained during a compliance review conducted Wednesday by FMCSA Safety Investigators disclosed that H & W Tour Inc. continued transportation of passengers without federal operating authority and without the required level of insurance.

The agency did not say what circumstances prompted the compliance review.

In the out-of-service order issued Wednesday, the FMCSA said that on Jan. 1, 2006, the agency denied H & W Tour’s request for operating authority.

“However, five years later, H & W Tour flagrantly continues to transport passengers in interstate commerce in its commercial motor vehicles without the required operating authority from FMCSA,” the order said.

But FMCSA records clearly show that on Dec. 14, 2006, the agency conducted a compliance review on H & W Tour and issued the company a satisfactory safety rating.

As of mid-morning Thursday, FMCSA officials had not responded to a request to explain how the agency could conduct a compliance review and issued a satisfactory safety rating to a carrier which had no operating authority.

In addition, both of H & W Tour’s motor coaches were inspected in Georgia on Aug. 31, 2010, and the results of those inspections were posted on the FMCSA’s website without anyone at FMCSA figuring out that H & W Tour had no operating authority.

In addition to the lack of operating authority, FMCSA said H & W Tour was operating without the required level of insurance, which is $5 million.

FMCSA records show that H & W Tour was carrying $1.5 million in insurance and as late as Nov. 2, 2010, had provided FMCSA with its insurance information and had done so on a semi-regular basis since late 2005, just before it was denied the operating authority.

Furthermore, H & W Tour updated its MCS-150 information May 15, 2010, and again, apparently no one at FMCSA noticed the company was operating without authority and without the required insurance.

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In its OOS order, the FMCSA also said H & W Tour failed to conduct pre-employment drug tests on its drivers and institute a random drug and alcohol testing program as required by federal regulations and said the carrier failed to ensure that its drivers comply with Hours of Service requirements, records-of-duty requirements and drivers' qualification requirements.

Buses were not properly inspected, maintained or repaired by the company as required by federal regulations, the FMCSA said.

“Individually and cumulatively, these violations and conditions of operation substantially increase the likelihood of serious injury or death to H & W Tour drivers, passengers and the motoring public,” FMCSA’s order read.

The OOS order was the fifth issued against a motor coach company since May 31, when the agency put Sky Express OOS in the wake of an accident in Virginia that killed four and injured numerous others.

The entire motor coach industry has been under intense scrutiny by Congress, federal regulators, the media and the public during the past four months following a tour bus accident in New York City that killed 15.

To date in 2011, no property carrying motor carriers have been put out of service, the FCMSA said.

Lyndon Finney of The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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