Intercity bus service is a critical component of our surface transportation system. Greyhound is the dominant carrier in the U.S. and Canada, offering scheduled services across a large geographic network. Regional carriers continue to play a significant role however, and ATU members also operate motorcoaches for companies such as Peter Pan, Southeastern Stages, and Frank Martz Coach Company, among others.
Recently, the industry has been rocked by several high-profile accidents, including the tragic tour bus crash in central Virginia on May 31st – the fourth of such accidents in the spring of 2011 alone. Driver fatigue was the issue immediately credited with causing the Virginia crash and playing a role in many others.
As a result of industry deregulation that took place in the 1980s, enforcing safety laws in intercity bus service has become a difficult task. The rise of “curbside” carriers, who eschew the use of fixed terminals and drop off passengers on street corners, has created additional challenges. Curbside carriers are often small, go in and out of business quickly, often fail to report key data, and create a “race to the bottom” in fares—and by extension wages. They prove a challenge for federal regulators to monitor, as they frequently park buses on the street and have no bus barn where regulators can perform random safety checks. Evidence suggests that current federal regulatory power lacks teeth—the company operating the bus which crashed in central Virginia had been cited 46 times for driver fatigue.
Data show that wages, when adjusted for inflation, are on the decline in the intercity bus industry. Further, the law does not require companies to pay intercity bus drivers overtime pay for hours worked over 40 per week. As a result of the low wages and lack of overtime pay, many drivers are forced to work second jobs during their so-called “rest period” just to make ends meet. Pushing their bodies to the edge poses not only a serious risk to their health, but a very real threat to the lives of the passengers they transport.
Dr. Michael Belzer of Wayne State University in Detroit compared crash data and found that unionized carriers are more than twice as safe as “curbside” bus companies. Regulators place curbside bus drivers “out of service” for violations such as fatigue at six times the rate than that of unionized drivers.
Responding to the series of fatal accidents, The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2011 has been introduced in the Senate by Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) in the House. While the bills call for increased safety standards for motorcoaches, neither version of the bill includes specific proposals to address driver fatigue. President Hanley and the ATU are calling on Congress to include an amendment that would ensure that the overtime provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are applied to bus drivers for these companies. Under the ATU’s proposed reforms, drivers would get paid fairly for the work they put in above 40 hours per week, making them less inclined to work other jobs while pushing their bodies to the limit.
“Common sense tells us that while maintaining the structural integrity of a bus is critically important, if a 40,000-pound vehicle traveling at high rate of speed overturns and smashes into a bridge or falls over a cliff, the lives of the occupants are going to be in grave danger, even if they are strapped in and the vehicle has the strength of a tank. The real problem here is that bus drivers are falling asleep at the wheel because they work grueling hours at abysmally low wages.”
— International President Larry Hanley, regarding the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2011
- Remove the exemption of intercity bus drivers from the Fair Labor Standards Act, allowing them to earn overtime pay like many other workers.
- Establish a national “safe wage” for over-the-road bus operators.
- More rigorous enforcement of federal regulations to keep unsafe carriers off the road