FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 12, 2012
SCHUMER: FEDERAL REGS LEAVE ALBANY-NYC BUS PASSENGERS IN THE DARK WHEN IT COMES TO BUS CARRIERS’ SAFETY RECORD – PUSHES LEGISLATION TO SHINE THE LIGHT ON UNSCRUPULOUS BUS COMPANIES
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced his plan to crackdown on poorly performing bus carrier companies that cut corners on safety standards. Schumer’s push for improved bus safety comes following a series of crashes in New York and around the country, and in the wake of a recent Albany incident in which the bus company “Double Happyness,” that had an abysmal safety record and many documented violations, kept operating for several months after the violations were uncovered. Schumer’s legislation, part of a major transportation bill that will be voted on in the Senate this week, would pave the way for a restaurant-style letter grade bus safety rating system. Clearly displaying the safety grade of companies would ensure that passengers had an accurate representation of the company’s safety record when selecting their carrier. Schumer’s plan would require the Federal Motor Carriage Safety Administration to create clear and understandable safety ratings to be posted on buses and at terminals, and require ticket sellers and bus companies to make their full safety record and history easily accessible at the point of sale. The transportation bill also contains numerous other provisions which will allow federal regulators to crackdown on companies and truly raise the bar for safety in the industry.
“Discount carriers provide a great, affordable way to get from Albany to New York City and beyond, but some bad actors try to skirt safety rules and that can have tragic consequences for their passengers,” said Schumer. “Passenger safety, not the bottom line, needs to come first. That’s why we need tough safety standards, better disclosure, and tougher enforcement to make sure bus carriers are following rules to keep people safe. Each carrier should get a letter grade for their safety record and display it for all their passengers to see, just like New York City restaurants do. We also need tougher federal safety requirements, and to make sure that passengers can look up the complete and total safety record of companies before they climb onboard. The Senate should pass this transportation bill that will be a giant step forward towards making discount busses safer for all.”
Late in 2011, Double Happyness Travel was shut down by the federal government after inspectors found numerous safety violations including vehicle maintenance and driver safety issues. But before being shut down the company, which runs routes from New York City to Albany and several other cities, continued to operate for months in violation of a federal shutdown order, and customers told local media outlets they were unaware of the company’s safety issues. The Double Happyness Travel incident is the latest in a string of bus crashes in Upstate New York and across the country. Last March, a low-cost carrier heading from Connecticut to Chinatown crashed between the Bronx and Westchester, killing 15 passengers. That crash followed the deadly crash in Syracuse from 2010, in which the bus driver was distracted by a GPS unit and crashed into an overhead bridge, killing 4 people. In the wake of those crashes, Schumer has introduced legislation to shine a light on the safety record of motor carriers, so that passengers can be fully informed when they book a ticket for a trip.
This week, the Senate will vote on a major transportation bill that includes several Schumer-authored provisions to improve bus safety disclosure standards. Under Schumer’s plan, the FMCSA would be required to determine the safety of all carriers using a ‘simple and understandable rating system that allows motorcoach passengers to compare the safety performance of motorcoach operators.’ If the bill is passed, Schumer will urge the FMCSA to design a letter-grading system similar to the health and safety letter grades that are displayed in restaurants in New York City. The letter grade would be displayed at the point of purchase for bus tickets, the departure terminal, and on each bus. Schumer said that by providing a clear rating, passengers would be better informed about the safety of the buses before they purchase tickets and would be able to make a more informed decision as to which carrier to use. The system would also reward companies with strong safety records and serve as an incentive for companies to improve their safety records. Schumer’s proposal would also require the FMCSA to make sure the safety scores of bus companies that serve urban areas, like the New York City to Albany route, are updated at least once a year.
Finally, Schumer’s legislation would require any entity that sells bus tickets, both companies themselves and third-party brokers, to clearly display the legal name and Department of Transportation identification number so that customers can review the full safety record of any company before they purchase tickets. Currently, customers would have to navigate a difficult website and spend time tracking down the identification number for their potential bus carrier on their own, in order to locate the safety information. Under Schumer’s plan, the sellers would also be required to provide a link to the DOT website that contains all of the relevant safety filings for bus companies, making the safety information easily accessible.
The Transportation bill also contains other critical measures, which would improve the safety of the intercity bus industry. Specifically, it would give FMCSA enhanced enforcement authority including increased civil penalties for violations of out of service requirements, stronger testing and registration requirements to prevent bad actors from getting into the industry in the first place, stepped vehicle safety inspections and the requirement that all motorcoaches have Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) which monitor to make sure drivers are not violating hours of service rules intended to keep fatigued drivers off the road.
To improve driver fitness, the bill would require better commercial driver training and the creation of a National Commercial Motor Vehicle Medical Registry to ensure that only medically qualified drivers are on the road. In addition, the bill would require that motorcoaches have safety belts, anti-ejection glazing windows to prevent passengers from being easily thrown outside the motorcoach, strong, crush-resistant roofs that can withstand rollovers, improved protection against fires and better training for operators in the case of fire. Finally, the bill would allow federal regulators for the first time to stop buses for en route inspections and gives inspectors more authority to crack down on unsafe carriers – often called ‘reincarnated carriers’ - who are put out of service one day and return under a new name the next. Both of these authorities were cited in the report on bus safety commissioned by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) at Schumer’s request.