School Bus Contractors

Consider the True Costs of Interstate Travel

Maria Battista
Posted on October 31, 2018

If you are a for-hire school transportation company that provides some transportation service across state lines, such as bringing students to a school-related activity, be aware of the true costs associated with interstate travel.

The Unified Carrier Registration (UCR) Board affirmed its position in May 2017 (see schoolbusfleet.com/Nov18c) that a school transportation company must include all school buses in its fleet for purposes of determining UCR fees — even if only one vehicle crosses state lines.

For example, if a school transportation company has 105 buses in its fleet with 10 school buses involved in interstate commerce and 95 school buses only involved in intrastate commerce, the company would be required to pay UCR fees for the 105 buses. However, when evaluating what it would cost the company to pay for 105 buses, the fees imposed under the UCR program are determined on a graduating bracket system scale based on the size of the motor carrier fleet (see tables below).

Therefore, in 2018, based on the fleet example of 105 buses, the school transportation company would be required to pay UCR fees in the amount of $6,820, even though only 10 school buses crossed state lines. So, as a for-hire school transportation company, you need to determine if it is worthwhile to do interstate travel that involves one or two school buses considering the cost of UCR registration fees for the entire fleet.

For-hire school transportation carriers across the nation are currently receiving letters from the 41 participating state agencies related to this issue. Many for-hire school transportation carriers are confused as to how this happened when for years such carriers only paid for those school buses that traveled in interstate commerce.

The Unified Carrier Registration Act of 2005 (49 U.S. Code 14504a), which took effect on Jan. 1, 2007, provides for the UCR Agreement, the UCR Plan, and for a UCR Board of Directors to administer and oversee the UCR program. While the UCR Act provides exemptions for property carriers, it does not exempt passenger motor carriers from the general rule.

Thus, under the UCR Act, effective Jan. 1, 2007, school transportation contractors were not permitted to subtract from their fleet school buses that do not cross state lines. In May 2017, the UCR Board reaffirmed the federal law when it noted that “the Act does not allow for exclusion of vehicles used in the intrastate transportation of passengers” (emphasis added).

The reason for-hire school transportation carriers are only now being made aware of this issue is because the federal law has only recently been enforced by the participating states. Therefore, many school transportation contractors have not been in compliance with the general rule for more than a decade. Yet, an exemption under the law is permitted for intrastate motor carriers that transport property, waste, or recyclables — i.e., trucks.

What can be done? There are only two possible avenues of relief. First, the UCR Board has the authority to provide for an exemption for school buses. In 2017, two requests were made by a law firm on behalf of various school bus companies. In each instance, there were not enough members of the UCR Board in support of an exemption, so the exemption requests were denied.

The second option is to have Congress change the law. Either method to achieve an exemption for school bus contractors is difficult. The disparity is even more glaring when you factor in that public school districts that own their own school buses do not pay for any of their school buses to cross state lines because their vehicles are not “for-hire.”

Maria Battista is association director of the National School Transportation Association.
Maria Battista is association director of the National School Transportation Association.

What can you do as a for-hire school transportation company? Contact your U.S. senator and U.S. representative. Share with them the disparity in the law between for-hire property carriers as compared to for-hire passenger carriers as well as the disparity between public school buses and for-hire private contractor school buses.

Other arguments can be found in a recent comment (see schoolbusfleet.com/Nov18d) submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation by the National School Transportation Association (NSTA). If you want to support the efforts of NSTA on this important topic, please call the NSTA office at (703) 684-3200 or [email protected].

The more private school bus contractors who support this effort, the greater the chance of a change in the law to bring more parity with property carriers and public school transportation carriers. For guidance on the UCR law, the UCR Handbook (available at www.ucr.in.gov/UCR_HANDBOOK.pdf) is a great resource.

Related Topics: bus fees, contractors, legal issues, NSTA

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