Q&A: Does Our Bus Need to Be Certified?

A “private motor carrier of passengers” must meet certain requirements.

Our church owns a small bus that has 18 seats. While the bus is used mostly for local transportation, we occasionally use it for out-of-town trips. Some of these trips go across state lines. Some members of our church have asked if the bus needs to be certified by the US Department of Transportation, and display a Department of Transportation sticker. Does it?

Any vehicle designed to carry more than 15 passengers (including the driver), that is used across state lines, and that does offer transportation services for hire, is a “private motor carrier of passengers” (PMCP) subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). Even if you do not operate your bus in interstate commerce, you may still be subject to state regulations similar to the FMCSR.

As a PMCP, your vehicle will fall into one of two groups: business or nonbusiness. In most cases, church-owned PMCPs are nonbusiness, meaning that you provide private, interstate transportation of passengers that is not in the furtherance of a commercial enterprise. The Department of Transportation lists “churches, scout groups and other charitable organizations that may purchase or lease buses for the private transportation of their respective groups” as examples of nonbusiness PMCPs.

As a PMCP, you must meet certain requirements of the FMCSR. These requirements differ slightly depending on if you are classified as a business or nonbusiness PMCP. Business PMCPs must meet (1) eight driver qualification requirements; (2) seven “driving of motor vehicle” requirements; (3) eight “parts and accessories” requirements; (4) “hours and services” requirements; and (5) inspection, repair and maintenance requirements. Nonbusiness PMCPs are subject to these same requirements, except that they are exempt from the recordkeeping requirements under the driver qualification provisions.

Note that a United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) number is required if you are an interstate PMCP regardless of business or nonbusiness status. No fee is assessed to obtain a USDOT number. You must complete Form MCS-150 (Motor Carrier Identification Report) to obtain a USDOT number. The form can be found at this website. Form MCS-150 can be completed online or you can print a copy of the form to complete and mail to the address indicated.

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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