Two new studies point a finger and offer a solution
As 2011 drew to a close the findings of a six-month study by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) again pushed a hot button.
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez D-NY) requested the study to focus specifically on the safety and compliancy — or the lack thereof — of discount motorcoach operators that provide curbside service.
The NTSB investigated five accidents from January 2005 to March 2011 that resulted in 22 fatalities and concluded the fatal accident rate for curbside carriers was seven times that of conventional bus operations.
Watching Megabus and Bolt Bus legitimize this operations model, I have come to think curbside is neither the problem nor a bad word. Why this bane of the industry is a clear and present danger has less to do with where these companies pick up and deliver passengers and everything to do with their preference for anonymity, dangerous cost cutting and abject disregard for safety.
Senator Schumer called the NTSB study a wake-up call, saying he looks forward to working on the overhaul of the regulation and monitoring of this industry.
Fine, but just one well-placed adjective from the senator to designate the operators in question would have done wonders to inform the public the entire motorcoach industry is not under fire. The study was very careful to credit the majority of coach operators for an excellent job.
So they know who we’re talking about, he might have emphasized the problems that lie with this rogue segment of the industry — everywhere it runs.
A wake-up call? With all respect to the senator, this study is the stuff that has been keeping industry members awake at night, decrying for years these cut-rate bus lines that operate under the radar. Legitimate operators just want to see some action that produces lasting results.
Following the incidents in March, FMCSA hit the snooze button. In May the administration could have easily prevented the crash of a Chinatown-bound Sky Express coach in Virginia that left four dead. Instead, while federal inspection records revealed 46 safety violations over the previous two years for Sky Express drivers, as well as previous accidents and a performance 99.7 percent worse than other carriers, it allowed this highly suspect bus line to remain in operation on an extension of a review.
In all fairness, the FMCSA has since atoned with an effective program that promises to strengthen its oversight and enforcement. On the heels of the U.S. DOT Motorcoach Action Plan and the FMCSA five-year Strategic Plan, the FMCSA CSA Program — Compliance, Safety and Accountability — is a valuable tool bus and coach operators can use to police their own safety and compliancy activities. In turn, their proactive adherence to CSA can only help the industry to higher safety standards and allow the public a more positive perception of motorcoaches.
In August the FMCSA released the results of the independent evaluation of the CSA program, which the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) conducted over a three-year period. UMTRI confirmed CSA substantially improves FMCSA enforcement and compliance, enabling its state partners to contact more commercial motor carriers earlier to correct safety problems and ensure compliance with safety regulations. The UMTRI concluded CSA has the capability to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities related to commercial motor vehicles.
Meanwhile, state and federal inspectors continue to say they cannot find the rogue bus companies. The passengers certainly know which curb to stand on and legitimate operators can point them in the right direction.
Norm Littler, ABA vice president, regulatory and industry affairs, asserts the enforcement community can certainly conduct inspections anytime if they observe the bus operating in a dangerous fashion or observe an obvious defect.
“The bad guys simply avoid routes where there are known inspection points,” says Littler. “Masking laziness by claiming it is the industry’s fault is wearing very thin and the media is fully aware of how hollow this excuse rings.”