Regulations

FYI: What Is A Bus And Who Says?

Posted on October 5, 2011
The criteria used to define a bus varies from state to state and even within the federal government. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a bus as a motor vehicle with motive power, except a trailer, designed for carrying more than 10 persons.

The criteria used to define a bus varies from state to state and even within the federal government. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a bus as a motor vehicle with motive power, except a trailer, designed for carrying more than 10 persons.

By Jim A. Luff, LCT contributing editor

Operators around the country have engaged in legal battles with transportation regulatory agencies in the legal definition of a bus and more importantly, which agency has oversight and control of buses. The biggest problem seems to be defining what a bus is.

The criteria used to define a bus varies from state to state and even within the federal government. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a bus as a motor vehicle with motive power, except a trailer, designed for carrying more than 10 persons.
The criteria used to define a bus varies from state to state and even within the federal government. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a bus as a motor vehicle with motive power, except a trailer, designed for carrying more than 10 persons.

The debate has raged on in courtrooms for more than a decade. In 2000, Alex’s Transportation, Inc. took its case to the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals. The 10th Circuit Court Judge, Paul J. Kelly, Jr. ultimately sided with a Federal District Court that previously ruled the Colorado State Public Utilities Commission had authority to license the plaintiff.  The plaintiff asserted Colorado had no jurisdiction over licensing based on the definition of a bus by federal law.

Federal Law — 49 U.S.C. § 14501
This law specifically preempts states from enacting laws or regulations related to “intrastate charter bus transportation.” In the Appeal, the following issues were considered:

  1. Limitation on State law. No state or political subdivision thereof and no interstate agency or other political agency of two or more states shall enact or enforce any law, rule, regulation, standard, or other provision having the force and effect of law relating to ¬(C) the authority to provide intrastate or interstate charter bus transportation.
  2. Matters not covered. Paragraph (1) shall not restrict the safety regulatory authority of a state with respect to motor vehicles, the authority of a state to impose highway route controls or limitations based on the size or weight of the motor vehicle, or the authority of a state to regulate carriers with regard to minimum amounts of financial responsibility relating to insurance requirements and self-insurance authorization.

What is a charter bus?
While the above code seems to make buses exempt from state agency control, it fails to define what a “charter bus” is. Other federal statutes muck up the water even more. 49 U.S.C. (United States Code) § 13506 defines a taxicab. §14301 defines "motor vehicle,” including a definition of "motor bus with a seating capacity of at least 10 individuals.”   § 30127defines a "bus" for seat belt use purposes, as "designed to carry more than 10 individuals.”

Now add into the mix 49 C.F.R. (Code of Federal Regulations) § 374.303 that defines a "bus" in regular-route operations as “a passenger-carrying vehicle, regardless of the seating capacity while § 390.5 defines a "bus" in interstate commerce as "any motor vehicle designed, constructed and or used for the transportation of passengers, including taxicabs.”

When a dispute arises, courts turn to state law when a statute is not specific. The intention is that state law must be compatible with federal law in meeting intention.  Colorado has a statute that defines charter buses. Specifically, Colorado Revised Statute § 40-16-101 defines a charter bus as “a motor vehicle for the transport of people, on a charter basis, with a minimum capacity of 32 passengers.”  

State conflicts

While 32 seats might be the magic number in Colorado, it changes from state to state and even within federal government. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a bus on its website as, “A motor vehicle with motive power, except a trailer, designed for carrying more than 10 persons.” Florida defines a bus as any motor vehicle designed for carrying more than 10 passengers and used for the transportation of persons and ANY motor vehicle, other than a taxicab, designed and used for the transportation of persons for compensation. That might be a Pinto.

Across the country, California PUC has adopted the Colorado standard of defining a “charter bus” as one having a seating capacity of 32 or more while California Motor Vehicle code defines a bus as, “Any vehicle designed, used, or maintained for carrying more than 10 persons, including the driver.”

True intent
It is very clear that Congress enacted § 14501with the intent of preventing state agencies from interfering in the commerce of passenger transportation on a national basis. However, with the absence of a clear definition of what a bus really is, state agencies are free to make up their own definitions and basically defeat the original intent of the very law created to protect the industry from the injustice being inflicted. It appears our federal government needs to clearly define what a bus is.

Related Topics: bus regulations, buses, industry regulations, mini-buses, motorcoaches

Comments ( 0 )
More Stories
(LCT image)
Article

How To Keep Up With Labor Laws

SEPT. LCT: Complying with labor laws meant to protect employees gets tough since drivers can’t pull over and take a 30-minute break.