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Schumer Reveals: Safety Gap On Inter-City Chinatown Buses; Rated Dangerously Low On Safety By Feds

Two Buses Recently Caught on Fire Mid-Ride; Passengers Were Lucky to EscapeLawmaker Urges Feds to Hold More Surprise Inspections, Devote More Staff to Low Fare Carriers, and Disclose Safety Ratings for Shadow Bus Companies

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed that cheap Chinatown bus services and a number of other bus tour providers are sorely lacking in passenger safety. According to Federal criteria, Chinatown buses do much worse than other companies in several Safety Evaluation Areas (SEA), which rate a bus services drivers, vehicles, and overall safety management. Recent accidents on a few of these Chinatown buses have raised serious questions about the safety of passengers riding to and from New York City to a variety of other cities on the East Coast. An examination of publicly available ratings and statistics show that lowcost, Chinatown buses score dramatically lower than other bus services.

Schumer is urging the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal government agency which is charged with the responsibility for buses nationwide, to fully investigate past incidents, increase the number of surprise inspections, make sure that safety ratings are clearly disclosed on buses for riders to see, and ensure that no bus that does not meet a minimum passing rating can drive out of the station loaded with passengers.

Chinatown buses operate over 350 trips out of NYC a week to Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. alone. This means that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are carried to and from New York City every year on these lowcost buses.

It is good to have low fare competitors, but the low fare means little if the buses arent safe, Schumer stated. Passengers who ride lowpriced buses deserve more than just a cheap ticket; they deserve to know that their families will arrive at their destination safely.

The bottom line is that some of these Chinatown bus lines have dangerously low safety ratings, Schumer said.

After talking with experts at the FMCSA, Schumers office learned that the budget has not increased at the federal agency since the advent of these Chinatown bus companies and staff investigators are much too overextended and cannot handle such a vastly increased workload. Nationwide, the FMSCA has only 700 federal investigators to monitor thousands of bus companies and hundreds of thousands of buses lines. And with the rise of at least 30 more lowcost Chinatown fixedroute bus companies in the Northeast alone in recent years nearly doubles the previous number of companies that FMSCA inspectors were responsible for, without any increase in staff or resources.

Schumer proposed a four step plan to make Chinatown buses safer so consumers can have both cheap ticket and a peace of mind:
1. Surprise Inspections: Currently the FMCSA generally does not do surprise inspections. The FMCSA, state, and local authorities should do surprise inspections so that the inspectors get a candid look at the buses before they can hit the road.
2. More Resources: Right now the FCMSA only has 700 bus inspectors around the country to inspect and monitor 2300 bus lines nationwide running hundreds of thousands of trips each year. Clearly the FMCSA is overstretched and cannot always do adequate inspections. More inspectors would allow for more surprise real time inspections.
3. Disclosure: The bus company should be forced to post their last inspection rating along with the national average so the consumer knows what kind of bus he is riding on. This should be in plain English that explains, for instance, that a rating of 98% means 98% of buses did better than this one.
4. Prevent Unsafe Buses/Drivers from Operating: Ensure that no bus or driver operating a bus that does not meet a minimum pass rating can drive out of the station loaded with passengers.

Government safety inspectors use Safety Evaluation Areas (SEA) ratings, which rate a bus services drivers, vehicles, and overall safety management, to decide which buses should be inspected. The ratings are based on crash history, driver history and safety management experience and are given along a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the most in need of safety inspection.

Chinatown buses and other similarly cheap bus services consistently rank worse than higherpriced services like Greyhound and Peter Pan Bus Lines. For instance, Greyhound Bus Lines has a rating of 35, which puts it in the "pass" category, meaning no federal inspections are required. Peter Pan Bus Lines currently has an even better rating of 30. The lower the rating for these bus services, the higher the safety; the higher the rating, the lower the safety.

The national average score for Driver Safety Evaluation Areas (SEA) is 24, the Vehicle Safety Evaluation Area score is 23, and Safety Management SEA score is 29.

However, Chinatown buses scores 3 times worse than the federal national safety average. The average scores for four Chinatown companies show that they score in the 85th percentile for driver rating, 22nd for vehicle, and 90th for overall safety management.

Fung Wah, one of the largest discount bus lines with service mainly between New York and Boston has an inspection rating of 69 more than twice as bad as the national average. And Dragon Coach has a rating of 73, raising serious questions about its safety. New Century out of Philadelphia has an unimaginably dangerous ranking of 98, putting its buses at the highest priority for federal inspection.

Only a few days ago, on August 16, 2005, a Fung Wah bus from Boston to New York City caught fire midride and was forced to pull over. After evacuating passengers quickly, the bus was consumed by flames. A Dragon Coach bus from Albany to New York caught fire after crashing into a guard rail on I787 injuring more than a dozen passengers in December of last year.

Following this latest accident Massachusetts state authorities have decided on surprise inspections for some buses, which is a very good first step but wont solve the more widespread safety problem for buses that dont originate in Boston.

While first started as a way for Chinese workers to work at restaurant jobs in different cities (i.e. work in a D.C. restaurant, live in New York City), these Chinatown buses are now very popular with college kids and others who may not have a lot of disposable income.

Two years ago the FMSCA investigated 16 low cost bus lines on the Northeast. Out of those sixteen, eleven resulted in enforcement cases. Further investigation reveals that the low cost carriers have dramatically worse safety inspection ratings than the national average. A brief survey of some well known carriers between New York, DC, and Philadelphia shows that the average low fare company does much worse than national average on virtually every safety ranking.

Schumer stated, It is important to give consumers more choices for lowcost travel to and from New York, but we have to make sure that low cost travel from point A to point B is safe and secure.

Click here to view chart.