In the largest crackdown in a decade, the U.S. Transportation Department has shut down 26 curbside bus companies for safety violations.
Buses in and out of Chinatown
Dozens of curbside routes originating at, or terminating in, New York City’s Chinatown have been halted by the government. An estimated 1,800 people rode on the lines daily, operating along Interstate 95 up and down nearly the entire length of the east coast, all the way to Florida.
Investigation followed fatalities
Curbside bus companies have been the target of a probe from the federal safety regulator, following increased fatal crashes. According to the National Highway Traffic safety Administration, the number of fatal crashes are seven times higher with curbside carriers than they are with terminal-based bus companies. According to USA Today, at least 28 people were killed in eight such crashes in 2011. Three of those occurred in a less than three months, on lines operating in and out of Chinatown.
The three main companies targeted were Apex Bus Inc. and I-95 Coach Inc., both in New York, and Philadelphia’s New Century Travel, Inc. The companies each oversaw a network of smaller bus firms. The feds moved in on May 30 and closed down operations in Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Nine of the 26 bus lines closed down were currently active businesses. Thirteen of them were companies that had been previously closed down but were continuing to operate in spite of the action. Three of them were in the process of applying for legal status as a carrier, but were conducting business prematurely. One of the businesses shuttered up was a ticket seller.
Simultaneously, 10 owners, manager and employees with the firms were ordered to cease all operations related to the business, including selling tickets, said the Transportation Department.
The kinds of safety violations cited were failure to test drivers for substance abuse, some drivers were unlicensed or were driving hours in excess of federal limits and many buses were in need of neglected repairs.
Resurrected motor coaches
Rogue or “reincarnated” bus companies that skirt safety regulations have long vexed federal regulators. As soon as one is targeted and closed down, it will reappear in another location or under a new name or the ownership of its buses will be transfered to another affiliated carrier. These buses are often painted plain white to make changing names easy and fast, thus earning them the moniker “ghost buses.”
Dan Ronan, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, said:
“It’s almost been a game of ‘whac-a-mole. The federal and state government go in, try to shut these carriers down. The owners transfer the DOT numbers, repaint the buses, and in a few hours they’re back on the road.”
Keep people safe, or get shut down
Federal Motor Carrier Administration chief Anne Ferro said:
“Today is a watershed day for America’s bus passengers. Passengers expect and deserve to arrive safely at their destinations, every trip, every time.”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters:
“By ignoring safety rules, these operators put passengers and other motorists at risk. This is a notice to every bus company out there. Follow the rules and keep people safe, or we will shut you down.”