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Getting the Real Scoop on Bus Operators

BusRates.com was designed to help charter-seeking customers book directly with their local operators. By booking directly with local operators, the customer is able to avoid commissions imposed by brokers, agents, or "specialists," and also ensures that the customer's requests and trip details are communicated directly to the service provider; lessening the chance that itineraries get lost, mixed-up, or wrong altogether through third-party communication.

"But how can I tell if my local operators are safe? How do I determine if they are in good standing and approved for interstate passenger transportation?"

BusRates.com provides all of the necessary information for you to verify pertinent details concerning operator safety, authority, and status. The following is a helpful "how-to" guide in obtaining and understanding the available data on file for all motor coach carriers.

 

Where Do I View Safety Records, Status and Authority?

After performing a search for charter bus operators near your desired departure area on BusRates.com, scroll through the results and you will notice that we list the USDOT number for each company immediately below their name and address. Underneath their USDOT number is a link to their Licensing & Insurance (L&I) information.

USDOTNumberExample
An example posting with the USDOT and Licensing & Insurance links highlighted

Give the USDOT number a click and you'll find that each USDOT number links directly to the posted company's Company Snapshot at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's SAFER website. If you're looking for the nitty-gritty details on an operator, this is the area to find them.

USDOT FMCSA SAFER Logo
The USDOT FMCSA SAFER System catalogues operator safety, status, and authority

Keep in mind that the SAFER website was not designed for the general public, so navigating and interpreting its information can be daunting at first. Keep on board with us, though, and we'll walk you through the most important things to know.

 

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BusRates.com's Guide to the Company Snapshot

The Company Snapshot on the FMCSA's SAFER website is divided into five key areas that we'll be examining. Each area has information that will help you decide if the company meets your requirements. The five main areas we'll be looking at will be:

  1. ID/Operations
  2. Inspections/Crashes
  3. Safety Rating
  4. Licensing & Insurance
  5. Safety Measurement System (New in 2010)

The following breakout of these five items will assume a streamlined approach to provide you with a general overview of areas of interest and items to examine. If you require further details, the FMCSA does provide a glossary of all terms.

 

1) ID/Operations

The ID/Operations area is the first large box-out you will see when viewing the Company Snapshot. This area lists identifying information about the operator, including the legal name, address and phone.

Operator ID and Operations

Particular fields to pay attention to include:

Operating Status: This should say either "Registered" (for interstate travel) or "Active" (for intrastate travel only).
BusRates.com only lists Registered/Active companies. If you encounter a company that has lost its operating status, please alert us immediately at info@busrates.com

Power Units: This is the number of vehicles the operator owns as of the MCS-150 Form Date. This number only includes vehicles that seat at least 9 passengers. 
Helpful to know if you're dealing with a large or a small company

Drivers: This is how many registered drivers the company has as of the MCS-150 Form Date.
Helpful to know if you're dealing with a large or a small company

MCS-150 Form Date: Operators are required to update their MCS-150 form once every two years. In the example above, the operator is not required to update their information until 12/23/2011.
If the form has not been updated within two years, this may be an indication that this company's records are no longer accurate. Caution is advised.

 

2) Inspections/Crashes

Underneath the ID/Operations box-out you will find the Inspections/Crashes reports. The data in this section tracks inspections over the previous two years. This section has the potential be alarming to charter-seeking customers, but by understanding what each area means, it can better inform you of a company's safety.

Inspections and Crashes

The above screenshot is from an actual bus company. We will use this data as an example in explaining each field.

Inspections: Inspections can happen at any time. An operator must always keep their fleet and drivers in passing condition to avoid failure. Small operators who rarely venture across state lines experience far fewer inspections than larger companies who frequently charter cross-country trips.

Out of Service: An "Out of Service" is result of the inspector finding conditions that pose an imminent hazard to safety. Examples could include a faulty windshield wiper to something more dangerous like bald tires. By the same card, a reason for a Driver Inspections failure could be something like a driver forgetting to record mileage in a log-book to something more dangerous such as driver exhaustion.

Special Note: It is now possible to view detailed information for failed inspections. Please refer to the Safety Measurement System section of this guide for details.

When an "Out of Service" order is issued, the vehicle or driver may not continue until the hazard is corrected. This may involve waiting for repairs or a replacement vehicle or driver. "Out of Service" can result in delays or termination of your trip.

Out of Service %: Since every company receives inspections at different times and at different intervals, a direct "pass/failure" comparison isn't suitable for gauging the safety of operators. For example, a company who has 100 inspections and fails 10 is statistically a safer company than one who has 10 inspections and fails 2. The FMCSA therefore ranks companies by an Out of Service percentage.

Nat'l Average % (2009-2010): This number represents the average Out of Service percentage of all companies. This number should help put a perspective on how your selected carrier stacks up to the rest.

Hazmat: The Hazmat field on the far right indicates if the carrier was ever inspected while transporting hazardous materials in cargo. It's rare for most bus operators to handle any hazardous materials. In the example above, the company successfully passed its inspection while transporting cargo that was considered to be hazardous materials.

Crashes: Crashes are recorded only once by highest severity. For example, if a crash involved 1 fatality and 3 injuries, only the 1 fatality would be recorded.

 

3) Safety Rating

The operator's safety rating, identified underneath their Inspection/Crash record, is identified by one of three options that is based on their most recent compliance review.

Operator Safety Rating
This operator underwent a routine compliance review on 8/15/08 and was later assigned a Satisfactory rating on 11/4/08

Satisfactory: Records indicate no evidence of substantial non-compliance with safety requirements.
This is the best rating and indicates the operator, as of the compliance review date, was following all safety requirements.

Conditional: Records indicate that the carrier was out of compliance with one or more safety requirements.
This rating indicates that the operator, as of the compliance review date, did not meet all requirements. Caution is advised; it's always a good idea to ask the operator how they've made improvements since their last compliance review.

Unsatisfactory: Records indicate evidence of substantial noncompliance with safety requirements.
BusRates.com only lists Satisfactory and Conditional companies. If you encounter a company that is marked as Unsatisfactory, please alert us immediately at info@busrates.com

 

4) Licensing & Insurance

The Licensing & Insurance area can be viewed by clicking the L&I link in the blue box-out located in the upper right of the FMCSA's "Company Snapshot" for your selected charter operator. Alternatively, the operator's L&I can be accessed from BusRates.com by clicking on the insurance link below their USDOT number on the company's BusRates.com posting.

Licensing & Insurance Link
This box-out is located in the upper-right of the Company Snapshot

In addition to identifying information about the operator, including the legal name, address and phone, this area identifies which type of authority the operator filed for, in addition to the insurance on file ($5 million minimum is required for interstate passenger transit).

Licensing and Insurance
This operator has active common authority for passenger transit and has the req'd minimum $5 mil insurance on file

Particular fields to pay attention to include:

Authority Status: This should say "Active" for either Common or Contract authority. The company is not legally able to operate without "Active" authority.
BusRates.com only lists Active Common and Contract companies. If you encounter a company that has lost its authority, please alert us immediately at info@busrates.com

Insurance on File: The amount listed for Insurance on File should always match or exceed the amount listed in the adjacent field labeled Insurance Required. For operators licensed for interstate travel of vehicles larger than 15 passengers, $5,000,000 insurance should be present for both fields. If the operator's largest vehicle seats 15 or fewer passengers, this field would display $1,500,000. Remember that while an operator may have insurance in excess of the Insurance Required, they do not need to make the total amount public. If your group requires that your operator has insurance in excess of the minimum $5 million required, please contact the operator directly. Proof of insurance can be provided by any operator upon request.

 

5) Safety Measurement System (New in 2010)

FMCSA's new Safety Measurement System (SMS) is a key component of the new CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability) initiative which was unveiled to public access in December 2010. The new program aims to improve bus safety and ultimately reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities that are related to commercial motor vehicles. In addition, it also reveals a wealth of information that was previously inaccessible to the general public.

The Safety Measurement System can be accessed from the FMCSA's Company Snapshot by clicking the SMS Results link in the blue box-out located in the upper right.

Safety Management System Results Link
This box-out is located in the upper-right of the Company Snapshot

Keep in mind that the Safety Measurement System was not designed to measure an individual company's safety, but rather to curb the safety of the entire industry. As such, company-specific safety declarations (such as those found on the Company Snapshot page) are not present. Instead, the SMS results are organized by percentiles.

The percentile system in SMS Results indicates how a company compares to others. The percentile is computed on a 0-100 scale, with 100 indicating the worst performance and 0 indicating the best performance. The SMS Results are presented within Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). The screen capture below shows an actual company's BASIC results.

Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories
An example of a company's BASICs overview

In the example above, notice that this operator is in the 81.9 percentile for Fatigued Driving and has been flagged for Hours of Service violations. It's important to remember that this flag does not necessarily denote an "unsafe" operator. The company's actual "Safety Rating," visible on the Company Snapshot, is actually Satisfactory; the highest rating possible. The flag is rather an indication that the FMCSA is "keeping their eye" on this carrier for any further Hours of Service violations and will prioritize this operator for future inspections.

Complete inspection details are archived in the SMS Results for 24 months. Further information is accessible by clicking any one of BASIC's 7 categories. For instance, clicking on "Fatigued Driving (Hours-of-Service)" provides complete inspection details for all Hours of Service violations. Additionally, data for all categories is available at once by clicking the orange "View Complete Measurement Profile" to the upper right of the BASICs graph.

 

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Now I'm Feeling Comfortable with my Bus Operator!

Glad to hear it! If you noticed any aspect of their Company Snapshot that didn't seem right; ask them about it. If the operator's Out of Service percentage is high, ask them for a reason for the failures. If an injury occurred in the past two years, ask them what steps they've taken to ensure an accident does not occur again.

Remember that the charter industry is a service industry; if you feel comfortable with your operator and the service they are willing to provide for you, relax and enjoy the trip! If you feel their service isn't up to your standards, back out and find the operator that's right for you.

The BusRates.com directory is your best tool in finding an operator that not only meets all of your needs, but exceeds them. Begin a search on our homepage to find the best companies for your group.

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