Jim O'Grady appears in the following:
Friday, June 17, 2011
(New York, NY WNYC) The Amalgamated Transit Union says it has an antidote to the recent plague of deadly long distance bus crashes: pay drivers overtime. The report contends that would limit drivers' hours behind the wheel, reducing the time buses are operated in a state of fatigue, which is the leading cause of accidents.
The report looks at statistics produced by National Traffic Safety Board investigations of 16 fatal bus crashes between June 1998 and January 2008:
Driver related problems were responsible for 60 percent of the fatalities occurring in the crashes investigated, while the condition of the vehicle accounted for only 20 percent of the fatalities. Driver fatigue was responsible for a staggering 36% of the fatalities occurring in the crashes investigated. It was the number one cause of fatal accidents, far above road conditions (2%) and inattention (6%). Other than vehicle condition, the next highest root cause was driver medical condition (18%).
The Virginia State Police believe driver fatigue caused a long distance bus to overturn on I-95 in Virginia on May 31. That accident killed four passengers and injured more than 50 others. It was the sixth major bus crash since the beginning of the year.
Those accidents, and the 25 fatalities they've produced, have prompted federal regulators to call for greater inspection powers of operators in the fast-growing industry. It has also brought renewed attention to the Motorcoach Safety Enhancement Act of 2011, which would require long distance buses to be fitted with seat belts, crush-proof roofs, reinforced windows and anti-roll technology.
All well and good, says the ATU report, but none of those measures directly address the issue of driver fatigue:
Hours of service regulations that have been in existence for decades are routinely ignored, especially by fly-by-night, non-union bus companies. The state police in general do not perform random checks of passenger buses the way they do on cargo-hauling trucks because of the dissatisfaction expressed by passengers when their bus gets pulled out of commission and no replacement vehicle arrives for hours. Moreover, even if police actively
seek out so-called discount bus carriers, there are not nearly enough law enforcement officers to even begin the process of ridding the highways of unsafe buses.
America Bus Association spokesman Dan Ronan disagreed with union's conclusion that bus company owners should give up their federal exemption from having to pay drivers overtime.
"This exemption has been around since the 1930s and we’ve had this series of accidents in the last month or so but we’ve gone 80 years without a rash of accidents," he said. "So if overtime pay were an issue, you would’ve thought we’d have had this level of accidents all the time, not just in the last couple of weeks here."
He said operators who pay substandard wages are not going to obey a law requiring overtime pay.
"The real question is how we get those guys off the road and reward the bus companies that are doing a good job, that are out there paying the drivers a decent wage, making sure their logbooks are up to date, that they’re driving safe equipment, all the things that make up a good bus company," he said.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) Long distance buses have been crashing and killing passengers with an unwholesome regularity since the beginning of the year: 25 dead and many more injured in six major accidents. And now the U.S. Department of Transportation is showing signs of moving into active crackdown mode.
The news arrived over the weekend with U.S. DOT press releases announcing the immediate shutdown of two bus companies for safety violations. Combined with an identical action against another carrier a few days before, that made for a four-day score of Government Regulators 3, Rogue Operators 0.
Before then, it had been rare for the U.S. DOT to go beyond punishing individual drivers and impounding single buses to banishing an entire bus company from operation.
The Department has stepped up field inspections. During the first two weeks of May, its inspectors carried out 3,000 surprise safety checks that ended up taking 127 drivers and 315 buses off the road.
The department has also been arguing for greater powers, such as the ability to levy a $25,000 fine for a safety violation, up from $2,000, and to conduct inspections at rest stops, not just at the beginning or end of a route.
Anne Ferro, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is part of U.S. DOT, made those very requests at a Congressional hearing on bus safety on Monday. The problem is most of Ferro's proposals require the passage of federal laws, a process that moves as swiftly as holiday traffic in Midtown Manhattan.
Ferro's agency has also just shown what could be done by aggressively enforcing existing rules.
In shutting down those three bus companies, FMCSA inspectors invoked their power to declare an operator an "imminent hazard," defined as a commercial carrier whose practices "substantially increase the likelihood of serious injury or death if not discontinued immediately." An example would be Haines Tours, the Michigan carrier that packed customers into cargo bins at the bottom of its buses.
Inspectors declared the company an imminent hazard and immediately pulled it off the road. The same fate befell United Tours of North Carolina for using unqualified drivers, as it did to CT Motor Coach, a previously suspended bus company that apparently "reincarnated" as JT’s Travel & Charter after being put out of service for repeated violations.
On May 31, the FMCSA was in the process of taking action against Sky Express when a bus in Virginia swerved and flipped, killing four passengers and injuring more than 50 others.
State police in Virginia believe the driver of the bus fell asleep at the wheel. According to FMCSA records, Sky Express scored in the bottom 15% nationally for "fatigued driving"--and was virtually worst for "driver fitness."
That dismal safety record, compiled over the previous two years, had caught the attention of the FMCSA. In April, inspectors showed up at the carrier's offices and conducted a thorough "safety compliance review."
Sky Express flunked it. Yet the company was permitted by law to take 45 days to appeal the finding, which it did. Then Sky Express asked for, and was granted, a ten-day extension to appeal. It was during that ten-day period that its bus crashed in Virginia.
The next day, Transportation Nation asked a U.S. DOT official, "Why wasn't the company put out of service before [the] crash?" The official replied in an email: "Currently FMCSA does not have the authority to shut down a carrier without an in-depth on-site investigation."
Eight days later, the agency found that authority and declared JCT Motor Coach an imminent hazard and immediately shut it down.
Monday, June 13, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) Federal legislators and regulators talked tough today at a Congressional hearing on strengthening bus safety. Anne S. Ferro, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, took the occasion to make a pitch for greater power to crack down on the fast-expanding long distance bus industry. But first, she delivered some chilling stats related to the recent spate of bus crashes.
"This year has been the worst period in recent history for motorcoach safety with six crashes resulting in 25 deaths and numerous injuries," she said.
Her statement came after a weekend during which her agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, declared three bus companies "imminent safety hazards" and shut them down.
One of those companies, Haines Tour in Michigan, was caught carrying passengers in cargo holds at the bottom of their buses. Another, United Tours in North Carolina, was using unqualified drivers.
New enforcement measures proposed by Ferro at the hearing included inspecting every long distance bus at least once a year, doing surprise safety stops while buses are en route and raising the fee for a company to obtain an operating license from DOT. Right now it's 300 hundred dollars -- 50 dollars less than it costs a street vendor to sell hot dogs in Washington, DC. Ferro said she'd also like to see the fine for a bus safety violation raised from $2,000 to $25,000.
Representatives from the long distance bus companies who participated in the hearing gave their wary consent to the proposals. "I can support it if it's reasonable," said Mr. Victor S. Parra, president of the trade group United Motorcoach Association. "You have to remember that these companies create jobs and are good for the economy. You don't want to over-regulate them."
Friday, June 10, 2011
Nassau County executive Edward Mangano said Long Island Bus will be privatized by the end of the year.
He announced at a Friday press conference that Veolia Transportation submitted the winning bid to take over the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's 48 bus lines, which carry an average of 100,000 daily riders.
Long Island Bus is one of the country's largest suburban bus lines; it connects suburban Nassau County with Queens.
The county and Veolia must still negotiate a contract. Mangano says he expects Veolia to run all of the bus line's current routes for $106 million--$8 million less per year than the NY MTA. Veolia will only be allowed to cut routes as a last resort.
The authority told county officials last year they needed to pitch in $17 million more per year for the bus operation, raising the yearly contribution by Nassau County to $26 million. That would’ve put the county in line with nearby Suffolk and Westchester counties, which respectively pay $24 million and $30 million per year for similar services from the MTA.
Nassau officials said they couldn’t afford it, especially after a state oversight board stepped in last year to seize control of the county’s depleted finances.
A press release from Mangano's office announcing the deal ripped the NY MTA as "a bloated bureaucracy."
The MTA, in a prepared statement, didn't respond to the criticism. "We look forward to working with the County and Veolia to assist in the transition and transfer of service at the end of the year," it said.
Thursday, June 09, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) The U.S. Department of Transportation says it has caught a long-distance bus company operating illegally after being shut down for safety violations. Regulators say Georgia-based JCT Motor Coach, previously taken out of service after two egregiously failed inspections, has resumed operation as JT's Travel & Charter.
The department declared the carrier "an imminent hazard to public safety" and ordered it to immediately cease its transportation services.
The practice is known in the industry as "reincarnation." A company can re-emerge from regulatory extinction simply by changing its name and address, repainting its fleet and hitting the street again.
U.S. DOT announced last week that it was investigating the Sky Express Bus Company for possibly reincarnating as a carrier called 108 Bus, even though regulators put it out of service on May 31, the day one of its buses crashed on I-95 in Virginia, killing four people and injuring more than 50 others. A spokesperson for Sky Express denied that it had taken a different name and continued to operate.
JCT Motorcoach had an exceptionally bad safety record, according to U.S. DOT, which listed some of the company's violations: "falsifying vehicle maintenance records, failing to ensure its vehicles were regularly inspected, repaired and maintained, using drivers with positive drug and alcohol testing results, using medically unqualified drivers and failing to comply with federal hours-of-service requirements for drivers."
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a department of U.S. DOT, is charged with enforcing bus safety. An administration official said inspectors pulled over a JCT Motorcoach bus last year and found so many maintenance problems that inspectors followed up with a visit to the business. That second inspection revealed a host of other problems. The carrier was then placed out of service.
A call to JCT Motorcoach late Thursday was answered by a woman who gave her name as Ala. She said she didn't work for the company "but I spend a lot of time around it." Asked about the U.S. DOT charges against JCT Motorcoach, she said, "Nobody's doing anything illegal."
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) A New Yorker is killed every 35 hours in a traffic crash, according to a new report.That's more than are killed by guns.
Domestically, that's not a bad record. New York has fewer road fatalities per capita than any other large U.S. city, according to the city DOT. But in European cities, like Paris and Berlin, the fatality rate is one half of New York's.
The report by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives and the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy is pushing for a goal of zero traffic fatalities.
Transportation Alternatives Spokesman Michael Murphy says it's time to catch up with European cities. "For us to pat ourselves on the back to have reduced traffic fatalities as much as we have is to say that those remaining hundred to three hundred people a year who are dying is acceptable," he said. "It's absolutely not." New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan frequently tout New York's diminishing traffic fatality rate as a sign of success of their street redesign initiatives.
The Transportation Alternatives/DMI report says most of those killed in accidents are pedestrians, and the majority of deaths are caused by speeding cars on wide roadways like Queens Boulevard. A separate study, by Tri-State Transportation Campaign, says senior citizens are most at risk.
DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow told Transportation Nation that the city has already launched anti-speeding campaigns, added countdown signals to hundreds of intersections and re-engineered streets to make them safer for children and seniors. "You’d have to be living under a rock not to know that safety is the most important priority for this agency," he said. "We will not stop in our efforts until we make our streets safe for all New Yorkers."
Transportation Alternatives and the DOT do agree on what to do next. Both favor street calming measures like curb extensions, pedestrian islands, and bike lanes. Here's the DOT's pedestrian safety plan.
That doesn't mean it's going to happen. Those measures have been criticized by some elected officials for impeding vehicular traffic, and some critics say pedestrian islands and other calming measures can block emergency vehicles.
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
New York has fewer road fatalities per capita than any other large U.S. city, according to the city DOT. But in European cities, like Paris and London, the fatality rate is one half of New York's.
Monday, June 06, 2011
The Sky Express Bus Company was shut down by the U.S. government last week after one of its buses turned over on a Virginia highway, killing four people and injuring more than 50 others. Transportation Nation’s Jim O’Grady says that Sky Express may have defied the Feds' orders and continued to operate its buses under a different name. This is a common problem called "reincarnation." Bus companies are shutdown and reopen under a new name, selling the same routes and simply repainting the buses.
Sunday, June 05, 2011
The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered the Sky Express Bus Company to cease and desist after it said the budget bus operator continued to run its business under another name in defiance of a government-ordered shutdown last week.
Sunday, June 05, 2011
(New York -- WNYC) The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered the Sky Express Bus Company to "cease and desist" from continuing to run its business under another name in defiance of a government-ordered shutdown last week. The department is also seeking the records of three websites that have sold tickets for Sky Express in the past, and may have continued to do so after the company "reincarnated" by painting its buses another color and adopting other names, including 108 Bus and I-95 Coach.
On Tuesday, a Sky Express Bus swerved and flipped off I-95 near Richmond, VA, killing four women and injuring 53 others. Federal regulators put the company out of service later the same day--a move the U.S. DOT could've made three days earlier if it hadn't granted the company an extra ten days to appeal a poor safety rating.
But Sky Express apparently kept going under different guises, even after the deadly crash and an order from the feds to stop operations. Regulators appear to believe that the company changed its name to 108 Bus and I-95 Coach--and possibly others--to sell tickets as usual through travel sites like GoToBus.com, TakeTours.com and 2001Bus.com. The U.S. DOT has subpoenaed records from each of those websites about their bus company clients.
UPDATE:Jimmy Chen founder and owner of Ivy Media, which runs both GoToBus.com and TakeTours, but not 2001Bus, said "TakeTours.com has never sold any Sky Express bus tickets." And that no company he owns has sold any tickets for Sky Express since May 31.
He also said that no new bus company has signed up with his sites that run on the same routes as Sky Express did. The only other company that does, is I95Coach, which has been around for "several months." As for the idea that I95Coach might be the same as Sky Express, Chen finds that far fetched because he's witnessed the two companies get in a price war that dropped some long distance fares to half what they are back up to now. "It's a no brainer, I don't have to check the ownership... That wouldn't happen if they were the same company," he says.
Circumstantially at least, Sky Express Bus and I-95 Coach seem quite similar. For example, the Ticket Policy page for Sky Express is essentially the same as that of the Ticket Policy page for I-95 Coach. The two companies have a roster of routes that is nearly identical and their pick up and drop-off spots in Manhattan's Chinatown are a short block away from each other.
I-95 Coach is presumably a new company because no record of it could be found in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration database.
Such apparent acts of business "reincarnation" are difficult to track, and have long been recognized as a problem in the discount bus industry, including a report from the GAO in 2009. The U.S. DOT said the information that led to Friday's subpoena came from its own investigation. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the legal move showed his seriousness about cracking down on the industry. “We are relentlessly targeting unsafe and illegal bus companies,” he said.
Calls to the Sky Express office in New York on Sunday were not answered. [UPDATE 6/6/2011: a lawyer retained by the company would not comment on the record]
Friday, June 03, 2011
Straphangers now have a new station complex at Court Square in Queens that links the No. 7, G, M and E trains.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) Governor Andrew Cuomo is tapping real estate and banking mogul Howard Milstein to be chairman of the New York State Thruway Authority, an unpaid position. The Governor says Milstein, who has no previous experience in running a transportation agency, was tapped for his business acumen.
Milstein has been a generous contributor to the governor's re-election campaign.
In the past, governors have frequently appointed campaign contributors and fundraisers to run state authorities or serve on authority boards.
While running for Governor last year, Cuomo had promised to end "business as usual" in Albany and reform the state capital's notoriously porous ethical practices. Indeed, Cuomo is believed to be hammering out a deal right now to close some of the loopholes.
Milstein made 42 contributions in the last five years to candidates from both parties, according to state records. The largest were two $25,000 contributions to Andrew Cuomo's 2014 campaign.
The governor routinely announces his political appointments with a press release. But he nominated Milstein earlier this month with no public notice. The Buffalo News first reported the nomination.
If confirmed by the New York State Senate, Milstein will preside over the authority's nearly billion dollar annual budget, which is used to operate thruways, bridges and canals.
Milstein is president and CEO of Emigrant Savings Bank. Forbes magazine estimated his family wealth in 2010 at $3.8 billion.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
The federal government shut down the Sky Express bus company indefinitely following a crash on Tuesday which killed four passengers and injured 50. The bus, traveling from Raleigh, North Carolina to New York City, was one of three major crashes involving discount, long-distance bus companies in the Northeast in May alone.
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) The long distance bus company involved in a fatal crash in Virginia on Tuesday could've been put out of service three days earlier. The company, Sky Express, remained on the road after federal regulators gave it extra time to appeal a poor safety rating.
Over the past two years, the Sky Express Bus Company racked up dozens of safety violations, some for drivers who worked too many hours or used drugs or alcohol on the job.
On April 12, the U.S. Department of Transportation rated the company "unsatisfactory." That was enough to shut it down.
Sky Express appealed its rating to the department. Soon after, DOT issued an "initial denial"--a strong indication that the appeal would be rejected. Sky Express should've been out of options, and out of business, last Saturday--three days before a company driver on his way from Raleigh to New York fell asleep at the wheel and flipped his bus on a highway, killing four people and injuring more than 50 others.
Instead DOT extended Sky Express's appeal by ten days, allowing it carry on with business as usual. On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he would direct the department to end its practice of extending appeals for operators found to be unsafe.
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
The tour bus company linked to the fatal crash of a Chinatown-bound bus in Virginia on Tuesday was found unfit to be on the road by federal regulators three days before the deadly accident but was granted time to appeal its poor safety rating.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) The federal government has indefinitely shut down Sky Express, the company involved in Tuesday's fatal crash of a bus on the Raleigh to New York run. The Charlotte-based operator had a poor safety record even before the accident, which has left legislators and others wondering why the U.S. Department of Transportation had given the company its highest safety rating.
Department records show the Sky Express Bus Company had four crashes in the past two years, with two injuries, and that drivers received forty-six violations related to driver fatigue and falsifying driving records. The company was also in the bottom one percent of carriers for sending out drivers unfit to operate a bus because of health concerns or a lack of training or experience.
But until Tuesday, the DOT gave the bus company a “satisfactory” safety record, its highest rating.
Police say the driver in the early morning bus crash, a Queens resident named Kin Yiu Cheng, may have fallen asleep at the wheel. The Sky Express bus swerved off northbound Interstate 95 near Fredericksburg, VA, hit an embankment and flipped.
The crash killed four passengers and left the driver slightly hurt. Fifty-four people were taken to area hospitals and treated for minor to severe injuries. It was the third deadly accident involving a Chinatown bus in as many months
Virginia police arrested Yiu Cheng for reckless driving.
New York State lawmakers are once again calling for more regulation of so-called Chinatown buses following the fatal crash. Legislation in Albany would allow New York City officials to keep better track of long distance bus operators through permits and more detailed record-keeping.
At a press conference outside a Sky Express office in Manhattan's Chinatown, NY State Senator Daniel Squadron said more oversight of the long distance bus industry was needed. "Enough is enough," he said. "We've had too many tragedies, we have too little regulation we have one solution, what we can do on the state and the city level."
The bill has passed the New York State Assembly but not the Senate.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
The federal government has ordered the tour bus company linked to the fatal crash of a bus in Virgina that was returning to Chinatown on Tuesday to halt operations.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Despite increases to subway fare three times in as many years, ridership continues to rise in what history shows could be an indicator of an improving economy, according to MTA data.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Saturday, May 28, 2011
(New York, NY -Jim O'Grady, WNYC) For ten years, New York MTA Board member Nancy Shevell has been going to meetings at the authority's headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. This week, she attended her first meeting as the fiancee of singer Paul McCartney.
Maybe they were amazed, Ms. Shevell's fellow board members, to see her conducting business as usual as chairwoman of the bus operations committee after she became engaged to McCartney earlier this month.
The development has certainly sharpened the contrast between the two sides of Shevell's life. By night, she steps through swarms of paparazzi on her way to A-list events, the ex-Beatle on her arm. By day, she presides over discussions about the latest additions to the city's articulated bus fleet.
"At no charge to us?," she asked an MTA staffer who'd reported a manufacturer would be repairing defective seat brackets on a new set of buses. When told yes, she reacted procedurally: "OK, a motion...a second...all in favor...?"
Former New York Governor George Pataki appointed Shevell to the NY MTA board in 2001. She is vice president of New England Motor freight, her family’s trucking company in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, calls her "the most glamorous trucking executive in the world."
The newspaper, along with other publications, also refers to her as a "millionairess."
She and her ex-husband Bruce Blakeman, who she divorced in 2009, have been major contributors to the Republican Party. Blakeman is a lawyer who's been been on the NY-NJ Port Authority board and was such an effective fundraiser that the party tapped him to run for New York state controller in 1998, a race he lost. He also ran unsuccessfully in 2010 against U.S. Senator Kirstin Gillibrand.
Shevell's political contributions have leaned heavily Republican. Her list of favored candidates has included Alfonse D'Amato, Rudy Giuliani and the Republican National Committee. Pataki frequently appointed donors with that kind of track record to posts on public authorities.
Shevell began dating McCartney in 2007, when he saw her standing there at an event in the Hamptons, where they both have houses. He's a British knight so once they're married, the rules of etiquette will require her to be called Lady McCartney.
Her fellow MTA board members might need some time to get used to that. Like the one at the committee meeting who needed her attention so he yelled, "Hey, Nanc!" She replied, "Yes?" Just as she did to Sir Paul's wedding proposal, perhaps without the question mark.