US judge sides with Nevada regulators in fight over Utah bus firm’s intrastate v. interstate routes
Aug 18, 2023, 7:05 PM
RENO, Nev. (AP) — A U.S. judge has denied a Utah bus company’s bid to block Nevada regulation of routes that run primarily between Reno and Las Vegas but briefly cross into California, siding with regulators who say their ability to ensure the safety of buses in Nevada is in the public’s best interest.
Salt Lake Express filed a lawsuit in May against the Nevada Transportation Authority and sought a temporary restraining order prohibiting state oversight of what the company insists is interstate travel not subject to state regulation.
The lawsuit said Nevada “declared war” on its interstate travel services earlier this year, seizing one of its mini-buses and leaving 20 passengers stranded with no ride.
Nevada transportation officials argued Salt Lake Express was engaged in an illegal scheme to evade state regulation by making quick trips to a stop with no customers at a California campground just west of Reno during treks to Las Vegas.
U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones denied the company’s request for injunctive relief in a 12-page ruling Thursday that says the travel constitutes intrastate movement subject to state regulation.
He agreed the Nevada Transportation Authority has legitimate concerns that the company’s failure to comply with state requirements regarding inspections and maintenance records jeopardizes passenger safety.
“Allowing the NTA to carry out its function as a regulator and forcing Plaintiff to submit to regulation like every other business advances the public interest because the public can trust that buses in Nevada comply with local regulations,” Jones wrote.
Salt Lake Express, owned by Western Trails Charters & Tours, said its fleet of more than 100 buses and vans serving eight western states are inspected regularly. It said it’s had no similar trouble in Washington, Arizona, Montana, California, Wyoming, Idaho or Utah.
Salt Lake Express said the seizure of its vehicle at Reno-Tahoe International Airport on May 17 was embarrassing and caused the company to commit the “unpardonable sin for a public carrier” — “it left passengers stranded with no alternative way to help them.”
NTA imposed a $10,000 fine plus the costs of tow and storage. And while “Salt Lake Express’s reputation suffered a major blow,” the company’s lawyers said, the harm to the stranded passengers “is significant” and likely incalculable.
“What is missing your child’s final high school baseball game worth?” they asked in court documents filed in federal court in Reno.
The dispute centers largely on disagreement over the point where intrastate travel — trips within the same state — ends, and interstate travel between states begins.
The state maintains its authority is clear because “every portion of passenger transportation” occurred in Nevada, with the only interstate travel being “the morning passenger-less jaunt over the border to a California campground,” lawyers wrote.
Jones said the ultimate test “is whether the local transportation service is an ’integral step’ in the interstate movement.”
“Simply starting a route in one state does not change the fact that the local travel from one Nevada destination to another Nevada destination is an integral step in the interstate movement,” he said.
“The public interest weighs in favor of allowing the NTA to continue to regulate intrastate transportation routes, like the one that Plaintiff operates,” Jones wrote.
While Salt Lake Express said NTA had “declared war” when it impounded the mini-bus, Jones said that “in actuality, the NTA went about its business as a regulator.”
He also answered the company’s question: “What is missing your child’s final high school baseball game worth?”
“Well,” Jones wrote, “attending that game is likely worth the price of a bus that the NTA inspected.”