This past Thursday the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”) shut down 26 discount bus companies declaring them imminent hazards to public safety. The shutdowns affected dozens of routes out of New York City’s Chinatown. In addition, FMCSA ordered 10 individual bus company owners, managers and employees to cease all passenger transportation operations, which includes selling bus tickets to passengers.
Earlier this year, FMCSA released the SaferBus mobile app to give travelers a quick way to view a bus company’s safety record before buying an interstate ticket or booking group travel. The app provides information about bus company operating authority and insurance status, bus safety performance records and bus company safety results.
Federal safety investigators found all of the carriers had multiple safety violations, including a continuous pattern of using drivers without valid commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) and failure to have alcohol and drug testing programs. In addition, the companies operated vehicles that had not been regularly inspected and repaired. The companies’ drivers also had serious hours-of-service and driver qualification violations.
The 26 shutdown orders apply to one ticket seller, nine active bus companies, 13 companies already ordered out of service that were continuing to operate, and three companies attempting to apply for operating authority. The bus companies transported over 1,800 passengers a day along Interstate-95, from New York to Florida.
FMCSA ordered several bus companies to shut down last summer after a comprehensive compliance review of their operations. A separate investigation of a March 12, 2011 crash in the Bronx that killed 15 people found the driver had been hired by a discount operator even though his license had been suspended 18 times and had been fired from two previous transportation jobs.
Reincarnation of troubled bus companies by just changing their name is a big enforcement problem. The FMCSA announced that it is taking further steps to ensure the bus companies they shut down cannot continue to operate under other names. Under a new FMCSA rule, FMCSA has revoked the carriers’ operating authority and linked the active companies to other companies previously placed out of service. The penalty is being raised from $2,200 to $25,000 a day against passenger carriers that attempt to operate without valid USDOT operating authority.
Also, last month, the FMCSA and its state and local law enforcement partners are conducting safety inspections of motorcoaches, tour buses, school buses and other commercial passenger buses in 13 states and the District of Columbia. The sweeps are part of FMCSA’s year-round effort to raise the bar for bus safety and protect bus passengers by taking unsafe operators off the road.
The FMCSA encourages consumers to report any unsafe bus company, vehicle or driver to the FMCSA through a toll-free hotline 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238) or FMCSA’s online National Consumer Complaint Database.
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