CARSON CITY, NEV. – Nevada lawmakers are considering a plan to return the regulation of transportation companies back to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Lawmakers are gearing to dissolve the Transportation Services Authority (TSA) and turn its regulatory mission over to the three-member PUC and its staff.
Under amended proposals awaiting action by the state senate and assembly, a single transportation commissioner would be appointed by the governor and serve as a hearing officer who would make recommendations for consideration by the PUC, which currently is comprised of Chairman Donald Soderberg and members Jo Ann Kelly and Carl Linvill.
Under current proposed legislation, the transition of TSA responsibilities to the PUC would occur Oct. 1. Sydney Wickliffe, director of the Department of Business and Industry, which currently oversees the TSA, said one of the objectives of consolidating the two agencies is to shift financial responsibility of regulating transportation industries to the industry and not to consumers.
Currently, she said, the agency is about 20% funded by audit fees, assessments and other industry licensing charges, with 80% coming from the general fund. She hopes to reverse the percentages under the consolidation.
Prior to 1998, when the three-member TSA was formed, the PUC and its predecessor, the Public Service Commission, oversaw transportation regulation in the state. But since the formation of the TSA, administrators have expressed frustration with lack of resources for the small agency to stay on top of all its responsibilities.
The TSA currently has oversight of bus companies that operate exclusively within the state, taxicabs outside of Clark County, limousine operations, tow-truck operations and household-goods movers.
As of January, the authority regulated an estimated 1,250 limousines, 650 tow trucks, 110 moving companies and 350 taxis outside of Clark County.
"The governor wanted us to look at how we could create efficiencies," Soderberg said. "Transportation always seemed to be second fiddle for the old PUC," because utilities generally were larger and demanded more attention.
Soderberg was one of the first Transportation Services Authority commissioners, and Kelly also has a background in transportation issues.
From the TSA's perspective, the timing couldn't be better for a transition. Commissioner Bruce Breslow recently resigned to go into the private sector while Sandra Avants, who has been in government service for 19 years, plans to retire and become a private consultant. Commissioner Kimberly Maxon-Rushton is on maternity leave but is expected to be the governor's choice as the newly appointed transportation commissioner.
"The TSA has always been underfunded and never has had the infrastructure for this type of work," Avants said.
With the deadline nearing on the end of the legislative session, there are still several unresolved matters relating to the blending of the TSA back to the PUC. Soderberg said it hasn't been determined how many people could lose their jobs in the consolidation. The TSA has about 25 employees on the payroll, with most of the positions in Southern Nevada. The PUC has about 88 positions, with most of the jobs in Northern Nevada.
He said he expects the agency would have more than 100 employees if the consolidation occurs and that the transition would occur over the summer if the Legislature approves the changes.
Another unresolved matter includes updating the administrative fee structure for licensing vehicles currently regulated by the TSA. Clark Whitney, regional manager of Quality Towing-SST Towing, whose business has been regulated by the TSA, said the fee structure hasn't been amended since 1971 and tow companies still pay $36 to have a vehicle licensed. He said some administrators have proposed raising the fee to $200 a vehicle.
"I believe that for the public safety and the public good there needs to be an entity that dedicates itself to making sure towing companies are fully insured and have a safety plan, insurance checks and drug testing," Whitney said. Whitney, who attended a hearing on the legislative proposals this week, said it's clear that Soderberg knows the transportation industry. "Don Soderberg is a man I respect very much, he's a good administrator," Whitney said.
But not everybody is sold on the consolidation. Rich Broughton, general manager of Triple J Tours, which operates a fleet of 26 charter buses in Las Vegas, said he is concerned that the TSA would lose whatever transportation experts it has if the agencies are consolidated.
"The TSA did the best job they could with what they had, but I've always felt that charter bus people got put on the back burner and when you move live freight up and down the road they need more consideration," Broughton said. "There are a lot of things in the charter bus industry that get by on a daily basis that even the Nevada Highway Patrol miss."