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PUC Moratorium Sought on New Tour Bus Permits

June 18, 1986|TED VOLLMER | Times Staff Writer

The newest member of the California Public Utilities Commission called Tuesday for a moratorium on issuing new permits to tour bus companies until the agency can fully investigate the effectiveness of regulations governing the growing industry.

Stan Hulett was appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian to the five-member panel two weeks before a tour bus accident in Mono County left 21 passengers from the Santa Monica area dead. In a telephone interview, Hulett said criticism of the PUC following the tragedy, "bothered me. . . . The PUC was taking the rap for something that wasn't (its) problem."

Hulett said the PUC, which issues permits to tour bus companies to operate in California, would consider the moratorium proposal at a meeting next week in San Francisco. The panel also is expected to discuss raising minimum financial and safety standards before a tour bus applicant can receive the PUC's green light, according to the commission's agenda.

Hulett said that he has lined up a majority favoring the moratorium, including Commission President Don Vial and fellow Deukmejian appointee Fred Duda. Vial has long favored stronger regulations on the tour bus industry. Duda was not available for comment.

PUC Executive Director Victor Weisser said that 142 applications by various charter bus companies are now pending before the commission. About 40 of them are for companies wishing to operate large tour buses, he added.

The PUC came under sharp criticism last week at an Assembly committee hearing for not enforcing stronger regulations on the tour bus industry, which has ballooned from about 400 operators to nearly 3,000 since 1975. Much of that growth has been attributed to PUC relaxation of guidelines governing entry into the tour bus market. The commission supported deregulation in the hope that it would spur increased competition and eventually drive down prices.

But members of the Assembly Transportation Committee, in the wake of the Mono County accident, suggested that bus safety may have been sacrificed in the move to deregulation. The panel unanimously backed sweeping measures to tighten controls over the tour bus industry.

No cause has been announced for the May 30 bus accident that resulted in 21 deaths and 20 injuries when a Starline Sightseeing Tours bus plunged into the Walker River on the return trip from Reno to Santa Monica. Safety officials have indicated that they will soon announce results of their investigation of the crash.

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