By Nathan Hurst, CQ Staff
Newer and smaller intercity passenger bus operations are more likely to be involved in fatal accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board reported Monday, providing safety advocates with new ammunition in their effort to bolster regulation of one of the nation’s fastest-growing modes of transportation.
The NTSB review was requested by Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, both New York Democrats, after five fatal bus accidents, including a crash in the Bronx this summer that killed 15 passengers and injured 18 more.
The bus was returning to New York City’s Chinatown from a Connecticut casino and was slated to drop passengers off curbside in Manhattan, a common practice among many new-entrant carriers seeking to lower expenses by avoiding costly bus terminals.
The NTSB report said such companies — particularly those with 10 or fewer buses and those that have been doing business for less than a decade — are more likely to have “higher accident rates and higher roadside inspection violation rates.”
The report also pointed to a shortage of resources at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency tasked with overseeing such companies. Calling the agency “overburdened,” NTSB officials said there are too few investigators; each is responsible for more than 1,000 carriers.
NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said quick growth among new bus companies created “challenges for enforcement authorities and consumers alike when it comes to separating the safe operators from the unsafe operators.”
Looking to Regulate the Industry
Legislators have been exploring ways to better regulate the industry, which has experienced robust growth in recent years as carriers offering low-cost, point-to-point service between many big cities proliferate, especially on the East Coast. Schumer and Velázquez said Monday that they would use the study to advance legislation aimed at addressing safety concerns.
Labor advocates agreed with the call for more regulation, with Amalgamated Transit Union President Lawrence J. Hanley saying the report would boost efforts to address driver fatigue issues.
“While a more rigorous regulatory regime for this industry is critically important, any serious proposal to clean up the discount bus industry unequivocally has to include a solution for driver fatigue,” Hanley said in a written statement.
Those bills would beef up federal authorities’ abilities to oversee the passenger motor coach industry, as well as address the issue of carriers who shut down and restart operations after being cited for problems by regulators.
Industry advocates including the United Motorcoach Association and the American Bus Association have pushed an alternative bill (HR 1390) sponsored by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., that would provide the Transportation Department with a longer time frame for setting new safety standards for the industry and would offer tax credits to help bus companies pay the cost of compliance.
Kathryn A. Wolfe contributed to this story.