LaHood: Motor coaches miss the bus

| 6/14/2011

FMCSA’s list of approved bus company carriers has been shrinking lately, and it may have something to do with the recent outrage of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

On May 5, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced it was employing a number of new initiatives aimed at removing unsafe bus companies from the road.

“Safety is our number one priority,” said Secretary LaHood. “These new requirements we are announcing today will help ensure passengers are safe and that carriers and drivers are in full compliance with federal safety regulations. The public deserves to know that when they board any type of bus or commercial vehicle, they will be delivered to their destination safely.”

The new initiatives didn’t prove to work so well, at least early on.

Within weeks, a string of fatal wrecks and embarrassing roadside inspections revealed that many of those buses kept right on rolling, usually by using different names. A bus operated by Sky Express Inc. rolled over on May 31 in Virginia, killing four passengers.

LaHood was outraged.

Sky Express had been ordered to stop providing passenger service, but the Charlotte, NC, company was selling tickets under different names, including “108 Tours” and “108” Bus.

“I’m extremely disappointed that this carrier was allowed to continue operating unsafely when it should have been placed out of service,” LaHood told USA Today regarding Sky Express.

“There is no excuse for delay when a bus operator should be put out of service for safety’s sake,” LaHood told the newspaper. “On my watch, there will never be another extension granted to a carrier we believe is unsafe.”

Following his stinging comments, FMCSA appears to have begun cleaning house of some often-cited bus carriers.

In mid-June, United Tours Inc. and Haines Tours became the latest bus carriers to lose their authority.

In late May, an Ohio State trooper found six passengers riding in the luggage compartment of a Haines Tour bus May 27. The same company was cited last August for using luggage compartments as a driver sleeper berth.

FMCSA gave Haines Tour the boot in mid-June.

On June 9, FMCSA banned JCT Motor Coach Inc. of Atlanta from operating all passenger service buses. The company had avoided a previous out-of-service order by operating under a different name.

FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro urged tourists to check out bus companies before they book trips.

“If you are planning on taking an interstate bus trip, your first step should always be to check the company’s online safety records,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “The public can easily look up bus companies on our website. There are resources and other safety information to help ensure your journey is as safe as possible.”

Federal agencies aren’t the only Washington, DC, players who have taken on bus companies lately.

In early June, U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-VA, joined Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA and four other senators in writing a letter to LaHood calling for “swift implementation of safety standards aimed at preventing driver fatigue.”

“The pattern of enforcement by DOT has been uneven, inconsistent and ineffective,” the senators wrote. “These crashes indicate the urgency in addressing these critical safety deficiencies —improving occupant protection with currently available vehicle safety technology as well as upgrading driver and operator oversight and regulations.”

“The failure of a driver and company to operate safely does not need to result in occupant deaths and injuries,” the letter ended.