A week after releasing a report on its safety investigation into Ride the Ducks of Seattle, the state has eased a ban on the amphibious vehicles.
OLYMPIA — Ride the Ducks could soon return to Seattle streets after a state agency Monday eased a ban on the amphibious vehicles imposed after an accident in September that killed five people and injured dozens more.
The decision by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) will allow half the 20-vehicle Duck fleet — vehicles of a type different from the one involved in the accident — to resume operations.
But in doing so, the UTC required the company to come up with a safety-management plan by Jan. 29, although the Ducks could begin hauling tourists before then.
If the company doesn’t submit a plan the UTC finds adequate by the deadline, “then they’re out of service,” said David Pratt, assistant director for the UTC’s transportation-safety program.
The commission’s decision keeps off the road for the time being the 10 “stretch Ducks” similar to the one that collided with a charter bus Sept. 24 on the Aurora Bridge.
At a hearing Monday before the UTC, Ride the Ducks of Seattle CEO Brian Tracey listed a series of safety improvements the company intends to make, but didn’t say when the vehicles might be back on the road for tours.
Tracey told commissioners that because they have been sitting for three months, half the fleet known as “truck Ducks” will have to be run for several hours to make sure they’re working properly.
Drivers will get a refresher course and also spend several hours behind the wheel without passengers “in order to make sure that they feel comfortable again,” he said.
A second crew member will be added on the vehicles to narrate the tour, allowing drivers to focus on the road, Tracey said.
The company is also adding cameras to the Ducks that “give the driver a 365-degree view.”
Tracey said he wanted the company to be “the safest commercial carrier in the nation.”
“As owner of Ride the Ducks, I take complete responsibility for the shortcomings,” he told the commissioners.
The Duck vehicle carrying tourists in September collided with a bus chartered by North Seattle College, killing five international students and injuring dozens of other people.
Since then, several agencies have been investigating the company. In a preliminary report, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that a defective axle on the Duck caused the accident.
The board has said the company did not make a recommended fix to the axle that had been called for in a national service bulletin.
The Duck trucks returning to service are modern versions of the stretch Ducks and have a different type of axle housing than the vehicle in the crash had.
The stretch Ducks include part of the original WWII-era vehicles’ frames.
The UTC’s decision comes a week after it released a safety report on Ride the Ducks of Seattle. The investigation found 442 violations of motor-carrier safety rules or laws identified by investigators — most of them minor paperwork issues — that must be corrected.
The safety-management plan required by Jan. 29 would address those issues.
Many questions remain, perhaps the most immediate being what route the Ducks will use in Seattle when tours begin. After the collision, Tracey announced the Ducks would no longer use the Aurora Bridge, which has drawn scrutiny for its narrow lanes and lack of a median barrier.
But in a letter to the UTC last week, an attorney for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray expressed concern about the company’s proposed alternate route, which would include the Fremont Bridge.
In a statement after Monday’s hearing, Murray said he still had “significant reservations about the safety of the Ducks.”
The city and the company will continue to discuss possible routes, according to Murray, adding that “we are hopeful that we can reach an agreement before any Duck vehicles return to the roads.”
Tracey told commissioners Monday that he was “willing, eager and anxious to sit down and work with [the city] to address each and every one of their concerns.”
It’s also unclear when the UTC will allow the stretch Ducks to return to service.
The commission plans to impose monetary penalties for the company’s safety violations, which will require another hearing, according to Pratt.
The UTC is allowed to penalize Ride the Ducks as high as $1,000 per violation.