Rimrock Stages, deemed an “imminent hazard” by a federal agency, has been shut down.
On Friday, the Department of Transportation issued an order for the Billings bus company to cease operations, calling it a danger to itself and others.
“This condition of operation is an imminently hazardous and potentially deadly risk for Rimrock Stages’ drivers and passengers, and for the motoring public” the 11-page order stated.
The order was signed by William R. Paden, regional field administrator for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Kjersten Forseth, a spokeswoman for Rimrock Stages, said workers were scrambling on Saturday to get customers to their destinations. Forseth said alternate transportation was being sought for an unknown number of stranded passengers.
She said the company typically has about 100 passengers on any given day on its 13 buses. The bus station in downtown Billings was completely empty of people on Saturday afternoon, but a clerk said it will remain open to serve its other bus lines.
A March 19 compliance review of eight buses revealed 79 violations of federal safety requirements. All of the buses, which were preparing to transport customers, were immediately ordered out of service.
All other buses owned by the company in transit were directed to proceed to their next destination and then cease operating.
The buses weren’t the only problem, the order said.
“Rimrock Stages does not have basic safety management controls to ensure that its commercial motor vehicles are systematically inspected, maintained and repaired, and that the commercial motor vehicles it operates meet minimum safety standards,” it read.
Employees of Rimrock Stages responsible for maintaining and repairing the buses don’t know how to perform basic vehicle inspections, it said.
“Additionally, Rimrock Stages knowingly dispatches vehicles before defects discovered during inspections have been corrected,” the order stated.
It cited the company’s “continuing general disregard for safety,” and said that disregard “increases the likelihood of serious injury or death.”
Dan Ronan, senior director of communications for the American Bus Association, said Saturday that his organization is in complete agreement with the DOT’s actions.
“We believe that companies need to run safely, and they need to run with their equipment in good shape,” Ronan said. “And in this case, the department inspected them and found they weren’t.”
The DOT announced about a month ago that it was going to begin a crackdown against motor coach companies, Ronan said.
“And they’ve been very methodically looking at companies, and as they inspect them, they’re putting companies they believe to be an imminent hazard out of service.”
Before Rimrock Stages can resume operations, it will have to take specific steps to demonstrate its compliance with federal regulations. That includes ensuring all of its buses are in good working order, and that its employees are trained to inspect, maintain and repair the buses.
This is only the latest, if most serious, problem the bus company has confronted. Last year, Rimrock Stages buses were involved in two crashes in Montana.
On Jan 8, 2012, a crash along on Interstate 90 near Clinton killed two people and injured 32 others. Icy roads were a factor in the accident.
A May 22, 2012, collision between a Rimrock Stages bus and a pickup on U.S. Highway 93 south of Arlee injured eight people. The Montana Highway Patrol said the drivers of both vehicles shared blame for the crash.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.