Vehicles for hire come under scrutiny

Vehicles for hire come under scrutiny

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has inconsistently enforced regulations for limousines, party buses, nursing home vans and other vehicles for hire. That’s according to the Office of the Legislative Auditor. 

Minnesota’s study followed a 2018 limousine crash in New York State, which killed 20 people. That accident is still under investigation. 

The legislative auditor launched a review following the New York tragedy and after receiving “questions about whether MnDOT was fully complying with state laws governing for-hire passenger transportation,” Joel Alter, the office’s director of Special Reviews, told the Star Tribune. 

The report makes several recommendations to improve safety, including more frequent audits of vehicles and driver background checks. 

MnDOT spokesman Jacob Loesch said the department takes the legislative auditor’s recommendations seriously and has already begun to implement some of the suggested changes. 

Most people hear of the for-hire transportation industry and think of tour buses, airport and hotel vans, party buses and limousines. But the vehicles also transport the elderly and people with disabilities. As of mid-2019, there were 824 carriers authorized to operate in Minnesota. 

A key component of MnDOT’s safety toolbox involves an audit checking whether drivers have a criminal background and making sure vehicles are insured properly. But the report notes the number of audits conducted by MnDOT declined significantly between 2014 and 2018 and in some cases “fell short of what state regulations required.” 

The legislative auditor’s review also found inconsistencies in the way MnDOT inspects vehicles for hire. For example, nearly half the limos authorized to operate in the state were not inspected in 2018. 

“The absence of inspections for some vehicles could have placed passengers at risk if those vehicles had mechanical or other problems,” the report states. 

Some safety regulations involving vans ferrying the elderly and people with disabilities and school buses were already tightened this legislative session, said Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis). He chairs the House Transportation and Policy Committee. 

Hornstein said there’s bipartisan interest in safety issues at the capitol. “We will build on the successful work past session,” he said. “It’s on our radar.” 

(Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune)