Saturday, July 1, 2017

Petitioning For Positive Change

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you may have seen a link I posted earlier this week, to a Petition on the White House's website, concerning some burdensome Regulations that have been placed on traveling "Entertainer Coaches," that were actually written for Commercial Passenger Buses.

Most people who attend Gospel Concerts don't know that Gospel Music groups... and any kind of musical or performing group that travels by Private Coach, are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration... a division of the Department Of Transportation. They write and enforce Motor Carrier Regulations for all large vehicles engaged in "Interstate Commerce," i.e. Trucks, Semi-Tractor Trailers, Charter and Commercial Passenger Buses, etc.. Our bus, and anyone who has driven our bus, has been regulated by the FMCSA since we purchased it in 2003.

To be very clear... We support sensible safety regulations, and we have complied with the FMCSA's applicable regulations since purchasing our bus, and we will continue to comply with those regulations. However, we believe the ultimate bureaucratic hypocrisy is this... Anyone reading this article could purchase our bus, or a bus like ours, remove the DOT number-sticker from the door, take the IFTA and DOT inspection stickers off the driver's window, call it a "Personal Recreational Vehicle," and drive it anywhere, anytime, without a Commercial Driver License or experience, without a DOT Medical Card or random drug testing, and without a Driver Log Book, and NONE of the regulations I'm writing about would apply...Even though, there are many more Personal Recreational Buses on the highways today than there are Entertainer Coaches. So, the reality is... it's not about the vehicle, it's not about the miles we drive, or the use of the vehicle, and honestly... It's NOT about safety, because we all want to be safe. It's about government over-reach and control, without considering effectiveness, inconvenience, or cost.

During the previous Administration, "Entertainer Coaches" were lumped into the same category as Commercial Passenger Buses. Many of the regulations for Passenger Buses don't make practical sense for Entertainer or Private Coaches, but we are now being required to comply with the same regulations. Even though all buses look similar on the outside, there are distinct differences in the intended use and design of "Entertainer Coaches," when compared to Passenger Buses. While Passenger Buses are designed to carry up to 57 passengers, Entertainer Coaches are designed to carry 6 to 12 passengers, and are most often equipped with living quarters, including galleys, sleeping quarters, and full bathrooms. While one might look the same as a passenger bus, it's actually an entirely different animal.

"In a nutshell," we are asking the Administration to review the newer regulations that shouldn't apply to Entertainer Coaches, and to reestablish the "Entertainer" and/or "Private" Coach classification that existed prior to 2012.

Many of these new regulations make no practical sense for an Entertainer Coach, or for those who use them, and it's not been proven that they actually increase safety. Instead, they have caused unnecessary compliance and financial burdens to anyone who owns or operates a private Entertainer Coach. Some have been forced to pay fines, others have have been threatened with "out of service," citations, which means they wouldn't be able to drive the coach, until bringing the vehicle into full compliance. I'll mention one of those incidents later.

I've had several requests to list some specific regulations that are particularly burdensome. I've also had inquiries from Professional Drivers, and people from other genres of music, asking for information on how they can get involved. In retrospect, I should have included ALL genres of music in the original Petition, since all genres are effected by the same regulations, but I was focused on Christian and Gospel music at the time of the submission. The White House doesn't allow a Petition to be edited once it's submitted, so I regret my omission. However, since every genre of music is effected, we hope all of them will get involved in this effort. There are pages and pages of regulations that need to be reviewed, but here are just a few of the ones that cause Touring Musicians, and Private Coach owners a lot of problems and expense.

1. The new "Roof Hatch" rule. This rule was introduced by the previous Administration, and requires buses (including Entertainer Coaches) to have an "Emergency Escape Hatch" in the roof of the bus. Passenger buses are equipped with these from the factory. The only ones I've ever seen in use, have actually been used for ventilation, not escape. To retro-fit an Entertainer Coach with one of these hatches, requires relocating existing air-conditioning units, cutting a hole in the roof, moving wiring and ventilation ducts, then repairing the head-liner. The cost is $1500 - $2500 dollars, depending on how much work is involved. These roof-hatches don't actually increase safety. I spoke with the former President of the Entertainer Coach Association who told me there has never been an accident in an Entertainer Coach, in which a fatality occurred because of a passenger being trapped in the vehicle due to the lack of a roof escape hatch. Alternate methods of escape already exist in Entertainer Coaches, including windows on each side of the coach that are designed to easily open in an emergency. This mandate exists simply because Entertainer Coaches have been lumped into the Passenger Bus classification

2. The new Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule. This new mandate forces Entertainer Coach operators to purchase or lease a device that links with the bus engine, to monitor the hours the engine runs, acceleration, braking, speed, and other information. This information is electronically recorded and reported. ELDs were originally designed for Trucking Fleet Operators, to assist the Dispatcher in keeping track of their drivers and vehicles. In our case, and in the case of most Music Artists, we operate a fleet of "one," and the "Dispatcher" is always with the vehicle. ELDs are of no practical use to Private Coach operators, but they can cause tremendous inconvenience and expense to many touring Artists, both Gospel and Secular. Two weeks ago, a good friend of ours was forced take his bus off the interstate and park for eight hours, just three hours from home. Last week, a well known Country Music Group had to pull several buses off the interstate, and have "relief drivers" brought in to drive them ,and their crew, home. They were only 70 miles from Nashville. These kinds of instances are happening more and more, and are causing both unnecessary delays, and added expense. The ELD mandate might make sense for Commercial Fleets, which run the same routes week after week, in most cases. However, they don't make practical sense for Entertainer Coaches, which are used for a very different purpose, and rarely run the same routes, from week to week.

3. The "Hours In Service" rule. Drivers are regulated, as to the number of hours they can legally drive, in a twenty-four hour period. In Gospel Music, many of the Artists also serve as Drivers or co-Drivers for their respective groups. In our case, everyone on our bus carries a Commercial Driver License (CDL). However, in some groups, there might only be two CDL Drivers. The "Hours In Service" rule makes it extremely difficult for Artists who are also Drivers to operate within the existing "In Service" rules, because of the nature of a singer's schedule. From load-in to load-out can easily be six hours, which presents a problem, if that Artist/Driver is supposed to drive for a few hours, after the concert. The rule is designed to prevent fatigue. It doesn't. The reality is the government can't know when a person is tired or sleepy, and trying to force them into a sleep schedule doesn't really work well. It does create more paperwork, and frustration... especially if you're not tired when the government says you're tired, or if you're sleepy when the government says you should be ready to drive. A safe driver knows when their body is telling them they need rest, and they listen. No sane driver wants to take unsafe risks, when there are 6 or 8 people siting or sleeping behind them.

4. The new Seatbelt rule. I've been riding on, and driving Entertainer Coaches since I was 17-years old. I have never been on an Entertainer Coach that had a seatbelt... other than the Driver's seat, and the "Buddy Seat," which are both forward-facing. Under the new regulations, all new Coaches are required to have a seatbelt for every seat on the Coach...the rule has actually been considered to extend to bunks! Thankfully, that hasn't happened... yet. Seatbelts might be a reasonable idea for a passenger bus, which can have up to 57 forward-facing seats, but it makes no sense for an Entertainer Coach, which might have 4 or 5 forward-facing seats. The remaining seats are usually side-facing sofas or dining booths. Seatbelts for those types of seats would never be used. It's another regulation that is expensive to implement, but it doesn't make practical sense for Entertainer Coaches.
An interesting fact is that Federal Regulations do not require School Buses to have seatbelts, even though all the seats are forward-facing. It would be reasonable to assume that seatbelts on School Buses could actually enhance safety, and possibly save lives. (More info here.)

5. This is a "big one." The Surprise Inspection rule. Historically, a State Trooper or DOT Enforcement Officer has been able to pull any commercial vehicle over for a violation, and while stopped, could also request compliance documents, and even do an inspection of the vehicle. The new regulation permits Surprise Inspections... without a reasonable cause... even on private property. That means that a DOT Enforcement Officer could show up at any given concert or Church, and demand an on-site inspection, without reasonable cause. This type of inspection could result in hefty fines for the smallest infraction, such as the driver failing to complete his "log entry" before the concert. It could also result in the Coach being put "out of service," which means the Artist wouldn't be able to continue their Tour, until the vehicle is brought into full compliance. A group we know well experienced something like this last Fall. They were pulled over on Interstate 40, without cause. The Inspection Officer wanted to do a surprise inspection. During that inspection, he discovered a "roof hatch infraction," and put their bus "out of service." They had to park it at the nearest Rest Area and leave it there... for several days. They managed to find a friend who could pick them up and take them to a rental car facility. By the time it was over, it had cost them more than $15,000. It should have never happened... but it did. That incident is now under Appeal, and we're hoping the FMSCA will be required to reimburse them for their losses. These types of incidents will become more common under the new Surprise Inspection rules. This rule shouldn't exist, since all Entertainer Coaches are already subject to Annual Safety Inspections by the FMCSA. The new rule is another unnecessary and burdensome regulation that makes no practical sense, and does not contribute to safety.

The Petition on the White House's website is requesting a review of the new regulations, put in place by the previous Administration, which are now going into effect. We are requesting the review with the hope that the new Administration will review, then reclassify Entertainer and Private Coaches into their own category, as they were, prior to 2012. The new regulations are having a negative impact on all Music Groups, as they try to stay in compliance with the latest regulations, with even more regulations going into effect later this year.

If you would like to join our effort, seeking an Administrative review of the new, burdensome regulations, you can add your name to the Petition by clicking here to sign the Petition.
It will take 100,000 signatures by July 29th to insure a response from the White House. Only US Citizens are eligible to sign the Petition, but we're also grateful for our other friends around the world, who would get involved if they could. If you sign the Petition, you must confirm your signature by checking your email, after you leave the White House website. If you don't confirm your signature, it will not be counted.

Signing the Petition won't cost you anything. It means you're joining us in requesting a review of the new DOT regulations, that shouldn't apply to "Entertainer" or Private Coaches. We believe a review will lead to either a roll-back of some of the more burdensome, and unreasonable regulations, or a reclassification for Entertainer and Private Coaches, which are not designed to fit into the Commercial Passenger Bus classification. This is a vitally important issue, especially for Gospel Music groups, but also for all genres of Music and traveling performers and musicians. If you choose to not sign the Petition, you can still pray that The Lord would continue to provide the opportunities and the means for Christian Music Artists to continue spreading The Good News, in the most effective way possible.

Thank you for taking the time to read, and for your consideration. If you would like to read more of the FMCSA's regulations, click here.