So-called "Chinatown buses" that pick up and drop off passengers at the curb have more fatal accidents and fail more inspections than larger carriers, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board. And curbside carriers with ten or fewer buses that have been in business less than ten years tend to have the worst safety records of all.
The report, which begins by saying long distance bus travel remains generally safe, was prompted by an accident in the Bronx that killed 15 passengers in March.
A bus operated by World Wide Travel was returning to New York City from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut when it rolled on its side and hit the support pole for a highway sign. Investigators said driver Ophadell Williams was fatigued when the accident occurred at 5:37 a.m.
Williams, awaiting trial, has been charged with fifteen counts of manslaughter.
The report said driver fatigue is a major issue for "Chinatown" buses. It adds that buses leaving from a curb at various street locations are harder to track down and inspect than buses that use terminals. The report also says the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which performs the inspections, has been overwhelmed by the rapid growth of the long distance bus industry, and that nationwide there are 1.15 inspectors for every 1,000 bus companies.
There's also a problem, the report said, with bus companies that inspectors put out of service for violations, but which then "reincarnate" under a different name while selling tickets through the same online broker they used before.
"The NTSB report is a wake-up call that we need a more rigorous regulatory regime and it provides a blueprint for how to fill the gaps," said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer at a press briefing (video) held in New York Monday morning on the report.
The Chinatown bus industry has grown rapidly over the last several years, even as it has been plagued by safety issues. "The fatal accident rate for curbside carriers from January 2005 to March 2011 was seven times that of conventional carriers," the report said.