By Glenn Swain
The series of deadly bus crashes this spring in the Northeast has again brought the subject of bus safety to the forefront, as Congressional members get set to debate two proposed bills this year.
The “Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act,” first proposed in 2007, is a bill sponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. The bill calls for specific alterations to buses themselves, like adding seat belts, and strengthening windows and the structure of the bus to prevent ejections.
Meanwhile, the “Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety Act of 2011,” has been introduced by Bill Shuster, R-PA, Tim Holden, D-PA, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas. This bill would strengthen the U.S. Department of Transportation’s oversight and efforts to set uniform safety standards on new and existing buses. Also, current safety studies would continue. A form of that bill was first introduced in 2009.
The United Motorcoach Association is clearly supporting the BUSES bill.
“We do have some concerns with the Hutchison – Brown bill,” said Victor Parra, UMA’s president and CEO in a BUSRide interview. “First of all, it preempts some of the work that’s going on today with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Until the primary regulatory body says something about what needs to be done, then we say okay, there’s science behind it, it’s being advocated by our regulatory agency and we must put them (seat belts) on. I don’t think any manufacturer has been opposed to putting seat belts on. We were just waiting for the research to be completed, the comment period to be over and for the NHTSA to issue a final ruling. We want to make sure there is science behind these recommendations. We don’t want a ‘do this, make this change’ without the research behind it.”
Presley & Johnson
Ken Presley, UMA’s Vice President of Industry Relations and Chief Operating Officer, said the Brown – Hutchinson bill is really not new legislation.
“A lot of this stuff has been in the pipeline for sometime now,” Presley said. “Our concern with some of the legislation is it may even impede some of the time lines. There is a house bill HR1390, the BUSES Uniform Standard that we are supporting.
Addressing the Brown – Hutchinson bill, Presley added: “There are new components, but certainly there are some things in there where the ultimate outcomes are positive, but we can’t support it because of some of the time lines.”
Congresswoman Johnson told BUSRide last week that she honestly has not refined her reading of the bill and does not consider it to be a final draft at this point, but added her focus is to be fair with individual bus owners.
“We have some people own one bus versus a company that owns a number of buses,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to be unfair and make the regulations so they can’t stay in business. What we want is a level of safety enforced to ensure that when people buy a ticket and get into a vehicle they have a reasonable assurance that that vehicle is safe and the drivers are skilled, and to have everybody meet a minimum of standards, both in training and the mechanical shape of the vehicles.
“We hope we will write something that will be uniformly fair around the country. I have not started to take a real good look at it in terms of real details, nor have we had a hearing. That makes a difference, too, when you hear from stakeholders.”
Parra added that even with the bus industry’s good safety record they needed to acknowledge the tragedies of the recent deadly crashes.
“Clearly, these accidents put us on the radar screen, and unfortunately for good reason,” Parra said. “So we have issues and we have to fix them.”
“I think everybody when they speak about the bus industry always quantifies that it’s remarkably safe and on par with the airlines,” Presley added. “It moves nearly as many passengers.”