Feds Shut Down 26 Intercity Bus Companies for Safety Violations
Clayton, Mark, The Christian Science Monitor
The unprecedented motorcoach safety crackdown primarily targeted bus companies operating along the East Coast's I-95, where crashes last spring left several people dead and dozens injured.
In an unprecedented move, the US Department of Transportation Wednesday shut down 26 intercity bus operators, declaring them "imminent hazards to public safety."
It was the single largest safety crackdown in the history of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the branch of the DOT established in 2000 to help curb fatalities and injuries resulting from bus and truck crashes.
In its move, unveiled formally on Thursday, FMCSA ordered 10 individual bus company owners, managers, and employees in six states - based in Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania - to stop passenger transportation operations, including selling bus tickets. The companies had transported more than 1,800 passengers each day in states from New York to Florida along Interstate-95.
The 26 "shutdown orders" included one ticket seller, nine active bus companies, and 13 companies that had already been ordered to halt operations, but had continued anyway, FMCSA said. Also included were three other companies that were in the process of applying for authority to operate.
But the apparent main targets of the year-long investigation were three companies: Apex Bus Inc., I-95 Coach Inc., and New Century Travel Inc., umbrella companies that oversaw "a broad network of other bus companies," according to the FMCSA "out of service" orders against the companies.
Federal investigators allege multiple safety violations including vehicles not regularly repaired or inspected and drivers who were unqualified. In particular, the companies showed "a continuous pattern" of using drivers who did not have valid commercial driver's licenses and others who had "hours of service" violations - driving more hours than permitted, FMCSA reported in its "out of service" orders. The companies, it said, also lacked alcohol and drug testing programs for drivers.
"These aggressive enforcement actions against unsafe bus companies send a clear signal: If you put passengers' safety at risk, we will shut you down," US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.
In directing the action, FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro added in a statement that "the egregious acts of these carriers put the unsuspecting public at risk, and they must be removed from our highways immediately."
FMCSA began investigating the carriers operating along I-95 after a series of deadly bus crashes in spring 2011. Several bus companies were ordered to shut down last summer. Further investigations found other problems and major safety violations with other I-95 carriers. Slowly, investigators painstakingly pieced together "links between the bus networks," FMCSA reported.
Motorcoach travel is considered a safe mode of highway travel, with 750 million passenger trips per year, the DOT reports. Motorcoach company inspections have more than doubled from 2005 to 2011. Even so, motorcoach crashes have resulted in an average of 19 occupant fatalities per year over the past 10 years. That does not include fatalities among pedestrians, drivers, and passengers of other vehicles involved in those crashes.
Bus industry officials were quick to support the DOT action.
"Companies that flout the laws and regulations that safe, well run bus companies follow, and the concentrated action to get these carriers shutdown and prosecuted are much appreciated," said Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association, in a statement. "FMCSA's actions went far beyond random roadside inspections, and ABA very much supports these types of law enforcement efforts. …