Several ‘Ride the Ducks’ vehicles testing operations on Lake Union after suspension lifted

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SEATTLE -- Several 'Ride the Ducks' vehicles were testing Tuesday on the streets of Seattle and in Lake Union. Our cameras spotted at least two of them in the water with only crew members on board.

The duck vehicles will be testing this week without customers. Officials say the city of Seattle has been made aware of the testing.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission last month lifted the ban on the Ride the Ducks tour business, allowing half of its fleet to get back on the streets of Seattle following a deadly crash last September on the Aurora Bridge.

The UTC said  that although the company still has to fix violations, none of the vehicles posed an immediate threat to the public.

“We looked at every driver and every vehicle that this company employed,” said David Pratt, assistant director of the UTC's transportation safety division.

State inspectors said they painstakingly scrutinized Ride the Ducks of Seattle from top to bottom. Pratt said they usually sample about 25% during an inspection but Ride the Ducks went through a more significant screening due to September's deadly crash.

“We’ve addressed many of the problems; we are going to make sure we fix every one of them,” Ride the Ducks CEO Brian Tracey said.

Inspectors gave the company an unsatisfactory rating last week, revealing 442 violations.

“As the owner of Ride the Ducks, I take complete responsibility of the shortcomings,” Tracey said.

On the day of the crash, federal investigators say the front axle of an amphibious duck vehicle sheared off, sending it onto a collision course with a charter bus full of international students from North Seattle College. Five students who were on the bus died, and 43 other people were hospitalized.

“There isn’t a moment in the day that I don’t think about the people who were injured by the accident and the families that have lost loved ones,” Tracey said.

Tracey added that duck boats will now have two employees, extra mirrors and cameras. All the drivers will be retrained before they are allowed to get back on the streets. And drivers who work more than 12 hours a day will have to maintain log books.

“We will no longer use the Aurora Bridge in our route,” Tracey said.

Tracey is hoping to use the Fremont Bridge as an alternate route but the city of Seattle has opposed that plan. Tracey said he is confident the two sides will find a compromise.

“The city and Ride the Ducks of Seattle can work this out so I don’t have to go over the Aurora Bridge ever again,” Tracey said.

After a long day of fielding questions, the UTC ruled to lift the suspension, ending a three-month closure for the company.

The decision means the tour company can resume business any day now. The CEO on Monday said he didn't have an exact day because he needs to work out a route with the city and make sure all his drivers are retrained. If the tour company doesn’t raise their unsatisfactory rating by late January, UTC can shut them down again.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued the following statement:

“I still have significant reservations about the safety of the Ducks operating on the streets of Seattle. However, the UTC as the primary regulatory authority has reached an agreement with Ride the Ducks. The agreement allows Truck Duck vehicles, but not the Stretch Duck vehicles like the one involved in the tragic Aurora bridge accident, to resume operations by the end of January. The UTC conditions include issues the City has previously discussed with Ride the Ducks, including requirements for a two-person crew and a route change. As the UTC urged during today’s hearing, the City and Ride the Ducks continue to discuss potential routes and we are hopeful that we can reach an agreement before any Duck vehicles return to the roads. In the meantime, the City continues to consider additional regulations to address the safety concerns of Seattle residents.”