- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 2004

The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles loses more than $3 million each year because it fails to charge tour bus companies fees that help pay for the wear and tear their vehicles inflict on city streets, a recent city audit has found.

Many other cities charge tour buses fees ranging from $3 per hour to $35 per day to use their infrastructure, but the District’s failure to do so costs the city millions in lost revenue each year, according to a report issued earlier this month by interim D.C. Inspector General Austin A. Andersen.

“As a result, the District pays the costs of maintenance and repair of physical infrastructure caused by the substantial number of buses in the District during the tourist season,” the report notes.

The report says the money could be used to fund road-repair projects and build new facilities for tour bus operators.

City contracting records show $3 million would finance an extra medium-sized road-repair project each year.

For example, the District last year spent $3.1 million to reconstruct two-thirds of a mile of Reno Road NW from Nebraska Avenue NW to Military Road NW.

By law, the Inspector General said, the District can generate at least $3 million per year by charging fees of $150 per year, or $10 per day, for vehicles with more than 12 passengers to drive on city streets. But the measure hasn’t been enforced, the audit found.

A spokeswoman for the DMV said the agency had no comment on the report.

D.C. DMV Director Anne Witt, in a letter last month to Mr. Andersen responding to a draft copy of the audit, said city attorneys previously ruled that the District’s current fee system for tour buses is unconstitutional.

She cited a memorandum from the D.C. Office of Corporation Counsel — now called the D.C. Office of Attorney General — which in 1998 declared a series of tour bus fee increases from $10 to $150 “unconstitutional and, therefore, unenforceable.”

The Corporation Counsel’s Office declared the fee unconstitutional after the D.C.-based American Bus Association sued the District, arguing that the fee increase illegally hindered interstate commerce.

City attorneys required the District to drop its collection of bus fees in exchange for a dismissal of the lawsuit, according to a report issued last year by the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Last month, Ms. Witt saidthe DMV is working with the D.C. Department of Transportation to start a new “fee for service” system that would replace the current legislation.

“At this point, we have been advised this kind of initiative is more likely than not to withstand legal challenge,” she said in the Nov. 9 letter to Mr. Andersen.Ms. Witt said plans also call for the DMV and transportation officials to establish curbside parking for tour buses, limit parking times and “charge fees for occupying designated public space.”

“The collaborating agencies will reinstate the tour bus permit fee or license fee at such time as it establishes a legal basis for doing so,” Ms. Witt said in the letter.

According to the report, though the fee increases implemented in 1998 were later declared unconstitutional, DMV still could have been charging a nominal fee to tour bus companies.

“To date, the District of Columbia has not implemented a tour bus fee, nor has the District implemented a tour bus management plan,” the report reads.

The inspector general found that if the city charged 1,000 buses daily fees of $20 each, it would gain $3 million in revenue per year. The inspector general recommends that the city reinstate the fee, and use the revenue to maintain city streets and provide more tour bus parking.

The lack of bus parking has been an ongoing problem in the city.

To avoid a $500 idling fine, bus drivers frequently drive around the city while waiting for passengers, clogging up streets and endangering pedestrians.

Last year, a tour bus ran over a 7-year-old boy and hit his mother as they made their way to the International Spy Museum in Northwest.

The U.S. Department of Transportation last year issued a report to help ease the traffic congestion. Among the report’s recommendations is the building of large parking facilities especially for tour buses.

In her letter to Mr. Andersen, Ms. Witt said the DMV will “follow closely” the recommendations in the federal transportation report of last year. She said extra revenue collected from bus permit fees would be used to “accommodate tour buses.”

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