Editor’s note: This news release reflects the position of the transportation safety staff of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) and NOT the views of the three-member commission. It discusses a staff recommendation that the commissioners have not yet reviewed. Any positions taken or comments offered by the commission staff regarding this proceeding should be attributed clearly to staff members and NOT to the UTC.
OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) today issued a complaint against Renton-based bus company Shuttle Express alleging the company violated a 2008 UTC order that directed it not to hire independent contractor drivers to transport passengers. The complaint also alleges that the company improperly shared private customer information with the contracted drivers.
Commission staff alleges that Shuttle Express committed 22,860 violations of state rules and laws from Oct. 2010 to Sept. 2011. If these allegations are proven in a hearing, the commission could assess the company a penalty of up to $1,000 per violation; however, UTC transportation staff recommended a penalty of $250,000 in its investigation report.
The three-member commission will set a schedule for hearing the case and is not bound by the staff recommendation. The company has 20 calendar days to file a response. Shuttle Express would not be allowed to pass any penalty costs on to customers by increasing rates.
During a review of a Shuttle Express request to increase rates, UTC staff noted that according to company records, some Shuttle Express revenues were associated with nonregulated, independent contractors driving limousines, sport-utility vehicles, and sedans. A follow-up staff investigation confirmed this. State rules require the driver of the vehicle to be operated by the company holding the certificate or an employee of the certificate holder.
Although commission staff believe that Shuttle Express’s use of independent contractors to provide passenger transportation service did not put the public in imminent danger, there is no way for UTC transportation safety staff to determine if the independent contractors’ operations, vehicles, or books and records, meet the safety requirements that auto transportation companies must follow.
In July 2008, the UTC imposed a $9,500 penalty on Shuttle Express for the same offense. The company admitted to the violations and agreed to comply with state laws governing their industry in the future. Staff’s investigation showed that, in fact, the company expanded the practice it agreed to suspend.
UTC staff also alleges the company shared private customer information, such as names and addresses, with the independent drivers, without first getting permission from passengers as required by commission rules. In addition, commission staff state Shuttle Express failed to maintain sufficient reserve equipment to meet its transportation commitments. The company used independent drivers at least 5,715 times during the one-year operations timeframe, when one of its own vans was delayed or unavailable.
In 2012, Renton-based Shuttle Express carried more than 700,000 passengers in the Puget Sound area with ground-transportation van service to and from SeaTac and Portland airports.
The UTC is the state agency that regulates auto-transportation companies operating within Washington. The commission regulates entry, rates, service and safety, including safety inspections on each company’s fleet of vehicles every two years.