Court battle over interstate travel targets Utah bus stops in Nevada, California

RENO, Nev., (AP) - A Utah bus company claims that the neighboring Nevada state has 'declared a war' against its interstate travel service, seizing one its passenger vans, leaving 20 passengers stranded without a ride based upon false allegations of operating unsafe vehicle.

Nevada transportation officials claim Salt Lake Express has engaged in a scheme to circumvent regulation of their bus lines within Nevada by making quick trips over the California border to Las Vegas at stops without customers. They are concerned that the Utah company has failed to meet state requirements for inspections and maintenance records, which could jeopardize passenger safety.

The U.S. District Court of Reno has heard a dispute over routes that stretch from the high desert in northern Nevada to a California RV Park in the mountains near Lake Tahoe, Death Valley and other locations. This is about 400 miles away (643 km).

Salt Lake Express' lawyers claim that they have been forced to seek protection from the federal government because "the Nevada Transportation Authority declared war on Salt Lake Express."

The Salt Lake Express stated in court documents that the seizure and impoundment of the van owned by Salt Lake Express on May 17, 'was embarrassing' and caused the company the unpardonable crime for a public transporter - it left passengers stranded without any alternative means to help them.

The situation was described as volatile and dangerous.

Attorney General Aaron Ford, along with his deputies, maintain that the Nevada Transportation Authority "has not treated Salt Lake Express in an unfair manner at all."

In recent court documents, the company claimed that the authority had declared war on Salt Lake Express, a claim which was full of hyperbole, flash and lacked any legal or factual foundation.

The main issue in the dispute is the disagreement about the point at which intrastate travel (trips within the state) ends and interstate travel (travel between states) begins. Interstate travel is regulated by the U.S. federal government. The states have the right to set their own rules within their borders.

Judge Robert Jones has denied Salt Lake Express’ emergency request to order Nevada to release its minibus that was impounded and to issue a temporary restraining order, which would have prohibited the state from harassing them in the future.

Next week, the deadlines for filing documents will remain unchanged. The case can proceed as usual and likely continue for several months.

Salt Lake Express, a division of Western Trails Charters & Tours owned by Western Trails Charters & Tours says that its fleet of over 100 buses and vans servicing eight western states is in compliance with federal regulation and not under the Nevada Transportation Authority.

The NTA's lawyers stated that "every regulation it seeks to impose upon Salt Lake Express is a duplicate of federal regulations and requirements", including background checks and drug tests.

In a request for an urgent order, they stated that Salt Lake Express had spent years trying to appease and convince the NTA of the illegality and ineffectiveness of their redundant regulations. They claimed that they had not experienced similar problems in Washington, Arizona or Montana.

They said that the seizure of luggage at Reno-Tahoe International Airport stranded 20 passengers on a route starting in Reno, traveling briefly to Truckee (California), before returning to Nevada bound to Sparks, Fernley Fallon, Hawthorne Tonopah Beatty, California’s Death Valley Pahrump, and Las Vegas.

NTA fined $10,000 plus costs for illegal towing and storage. Salt Lake Express' reputation was damaged, but the damage to passengers who were stranded is'significant and probably not calculable', according to the company's attorneys.

What is the value of missing your child’s last high school baseball match? They asked.

Parties disagree on whether the company was adequately notified of the disciplinary hearings, and whether its attorneys were certified to appear in front of the commission.

NTA issued a citation to the company in 2021-22 for failing to inspect a vehicle and for failing, amongst other things, identify equipment used for interstate commerce, maintain maintenance records, etc.

It issued citations this year before impoundment for allowing drivers to drive with NTA permits without inspection, driving uninspected vehicles, and failing to submit requested drug test results.

Nevada's attorneys wrote in their opposition to the state's request for emergency relief on May 29, 'The first reason Plaintiff's license has been suspended is due to certain safety violations, and the fact that the vehicles have not met certain minimum standards.'

They said, "These passengers would not be better off driving in unsafe vehicles through the Nevada desert,"

Lawyers wrote that the state maintained its authority was clear, because "every segment of passenger transportation" took place in Nevada. The only interstate travel involved a morning jaunt to a California campsite without passengers.

They said, "This is classic deception." The plaintiff is not picking up passengers in Truckee or Death Valley. The vehicles may not be going to Truckee, or Death Valley.