US judge sides with Nevada regulators in dispute over bus company’s routes in Utah

The litigation focuses on interstate and domestic travel

A man photographs the Caesars Palace hotel and casino in Las Vegas in 2015. A federal judge has rejected a Utah bus company’s attempt to block regulation of Nevada routes that run primarily between Reno and Las Vegas but briefly run to California. (AP Photo/John Locher, file)

Reno, Nevada • A US judge has rejected an attempt by a Utah bus company to block regulation of Nevada routes that run primarily between Reno and Las Vegas but briefly go to California, siding with regulators who say their ability to keep buses safe in Nevada is in the public interest.

Salt Lake Express filed a lawsuit against the Nevada Transportation Authority in May, seeking an injunction barring state oversight of what the company says is interstate travel not subject to state regulation.

The lawsuit says Nevada “declared war” on its interstate travel services earlier this year by impounding one of its minibuses, leaving 20 passengers without a ride.

Nevada transportation officials argued that Salt Lake Express was involved in an illegal plan to evade state regulation by operating fast trips to a customer-less stop at a California campground west of Reno while en route to Las Vegas.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones denied the company’s motion for injunctive relief in a 12-page judgment Thursday, which found the trip was a domestic movement subject to state regulation.

He agreed that the Nevada Transportation Authority has legitimate concerns that the company’s failure to comply with government requirements regarding inspections and maintenance records endangers passenger safety.

“Allowing the NTA to perform its regulatory function and forcing the plaintiff to submit to regulation like any other company furthers the public interest because the public can have confidence that Nevada buses comply with local regulations,” wrote Jones.

Salt Lake Express, owned by Western Trails Charters & Tours, said its fleet of more than 100 buses and vans serving eight western states is regularly inspected. It said there were no comparable problems in Washington, Arizona, Montana, California, Wyoming, Idaho or Utah.

Salt Lake Express said the May 17 seizure of its vehicle at Reno-Tahoe International Airport was embarrassing and prompted the company to commit the “unforgivable sin for a public carrier”: “Passengers were stranded as a result and had none.” other way to help them.”

The NTA imposed a $10,000 fine plus towing and storage costs. And while “Salt Lake Express’s reputation has taken a serious blow,” the company’s lawyers said, the damage to the stranded passengers was “significant” and likely incalculable.

“What’s the value of your child missing the last high school baseball game?” they asked in court documents filed in federal court in Reno.

The dispute largely revolves around disagreements over when intrastate travel — travel within the same state — ends and interstate travel between states begins.

The state claims its authority is clear because “every part of the passenger transportation” occurred in Nevada and the only interstate trip was “the morning trip with no passengers across the border to a California campground,” attorneys wrote.

Jones said the ultimate test is “whether local transportation service is an ‘integral step’ in the interstate movement.”

“Simply starting a route in one state does not change the fact that local travel from one Nevada destination to another Nevada destination is an essential step in interstate movement,” he said.

“The public interest supports the NTA’s continued ability to regulate domestic transportation routes such as those operated by plaintiff,” Jones wrote.

While the Salt Lake Express said the NTA “declared war” when it impounded the van, Jones said that “the NTA was actually doing its job as a regulator.”

He also answered the company’s question, “What’s your kid’s missing high school baseball game worth?”

“Well,” Jones wrote, “taking part in this game is probably worth the price of a bus that the NTA inspected.”

Justin Scaccy

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