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American Bus Association

Transportation Nation

D.C. To Impose New Fees On Booming Intercity Bus Industry

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) The intercity bus industry is red-hot here in the Northeast Corridor. Almost a dozen companies have sprung up seemingly overnight to meet the demand for inexpensive, scheduled service between Washington D.C. and New York City.

These buses are more colloquially known as Chinatown Buses, because many of them pick up passengers on the curb in D.C.'s Chinatown neighborhood and drop them off on the curb in New York's Chinatown neighborhood. (And vice versa, of course.)

But now, for the first time, District officials are attempting to regulate this largely unregulated new industry. D.C.'s Department of Transportation will start charging bus companies a public space rental fee for use of the curb, which could total $80,000 a year or more. DDOT will also now be able to prevent bus companies from operating in certain locations in D.C.

For more info about this nascent industry and the rationale behind these new regulations, check out this story on WAMU.

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Transportation Nation

In Wake of Bronx Crash, New Fed Rules For Long Distance Buses

Thursday, May 05, 2011

(photo by Naomi A. / Flickr creative commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Almost two months after fifteen people were killed in a bus crash in the Bronx, federal regulators have announced new safety rules for long distance buses. The rules increase oversight mainly on drivers and new bus companies.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says new bus lines will have to undergo safety audits before they can sell their first ticket. And bus drivers could lose their commercial licenses if they violate drug and alcohol laws even while operating their own private car.

The rules were embraced by American Bus Association president Peter Pantuso, who joined LaHood at a press conference in Washington, DC. The association represents existing carriers, who wouldn't be subject to the safety audits. And the toughest of the new rules are aimed at drivers, like the creation of a national database tracking the results of drivers' alcohol and drug tests.

Whether the rule change about driving under the influence would have prevented the bus crash in the Bronx is doubtful. That driver had been stopped in his private car--but for speeding, not DUI. And he kept the summonses from affecting his commercial license by allegedly giving a false name to police.

Bus companies and state transportation agencies will have three years to prepare to comply with the new safety rules.

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WNYC News

In Wake of Deadly Bronx Crash, New Fed Rules For Long-Distance Buses

Thursday, May 05, 2011

WNYC

Nearly two months after 15 people were killed in a bus crash in the Bronx, federal regulators have announced new safety rules for long-distance buses that increase oversight on drivers and new bus companies.

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Transportation Nation

Former National Safety Board Chief Rips Bus Industry

Monday, April 11, 2011

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) When three inter-city buses crashed in the northeast last month, killing 17 people and injuring dozens of others, public officials and many in the booming industry itself said the time had come for reform. The debate is over what kind of regulations to impose on the sprawling industry, which makes 750 million passenger trips a year and accounts for more than 2,000 arrivals and departures every week in New York City.

Among those calling for stricter regulation is James Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1984 to 2001, who in an interview with Transportation Nation criticized long distance bus companies for placing profits over safety, and government for letting it happen.

“We haven’t seen a commitment by the industry or the government," Hall said. "They have treated the people who ride these buses as second-class citizens and given them second class safety.”

He said the 2009 crash of a commuter airline in Buffalo, which killed 50 people, led to tighter regulation of short-hop air carriers; but fatal bus accidents have left bus operators relatively untouched by stricter safety rules.

"I'd like to see the federal government take the responsibility for the safe transportation of citizens on motorcoaches just as seriously as they take the safe transportation of more affluent citizens on commercial aviation," he said.

Hall said he's familiar with the rise and fall of official ire in the months after deadly bus crashes. Federal lawmakers, who have authority over interstate travel, express grave concern. They sometimes even take the next step and author a serious set of recommendations, such as the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2009 Motor Coach Safety Action Plan.That report inspired The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, which would've mandated safety upgrades like seat belts, stronger windows and fire suppression equipment on long distance buses.

The American Bus Association, a trade group based in Washington, DC, largely opposed the measure. It estimated the cost of the regulations for new buses at as much as $89,000 per vehicle. A typical new motor coach costs about $500,000. The bill failed.

Association president Peter Pantuso said he supported training bus drivers to a national standard. But he's concerned that mandatory safety features could drive up fares. And low fares are what keep bus operators in business, especially in the burgeoning discount sector.

"The industry is really made up of a lot of very, very small mom and pop companies who operate very safely," he said. "And there are a lot of regulations already in place. It’s a matter of enforcement."

Hall was not satisfied with that sentiment. “I have yet to see the American Bus Association be aggressive on the subject of safety," he said. "They’re aggressive in regard to insuring the profits of their own membership but they need to be just as aggressive in policing their own industry.”

Congress is poised to weigh in with two separate bus safety bills, both of which call for training drivers to a national standard and conducting stricter checks on them. They differ as to how much safety equipment upgrades should be imposed.

And soon the NTSB will release the results of its investigation into the March 12 crash in the Bronx that killed 15 people. The NTSB will also be examining the effectiveness of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency charged with regulatory enforcement of the tour bus industry and which has been criticized for lax oversight.

Pantuso said his association is all for rigorous enforcement of existing rules on driver rest and fitness, and inspections of vehicles. But he's wary of over-regulation. He says despite recent crashes, taking a long-distance bus is one of the safest modes of travel in North America--and that should count for something.

Philip White is a bus driver who earns $320 for driving round-trip in two days from New York to Richmond, VA--a five and a half to seven hour trip each way, depending on traffic. He works for Apex Bus, a company based in Manhattan's Chinatown. He recently leaned on the steering wheel in his bus and considered what's at stake when it comes to bus safety.

“Everybody on this bus has a wife or husband and kids," he said. "Or a mother and father at least. It’s not a joke.”

Listen to WNYC FM this morning to hear Hall's remarks.

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Transportation Nation

Union Chief: Want Safer Inter-City Buses? Raise Driver Pay. (Bus Owners Don't Agree.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chinatown Bus. (photo by Naomi A. / Flckr Creative Commons.)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Three tour bus accidents in the Northeast this month have left dozens of people injured and seventeen dead. The inevitable calls for reform have followed, along with crackdowns on discount inter-city carriers through spot-checks of their buses.

Bruce Hamilton, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said all of that is appropriate but one measure to raise bus safety has been overlooked: better pay for drivers. His call for a minimum wage for drivers has drawn opposition, however, from a national bus owner trade association that says the industry is thriving because the competitive market, not government intervention, has set rates.

Hamilton says large bus companies like Peter Pan, Greyhound, Bonanza and others have the best safety records because drivers are paid higher wages--and that low pay on the discount lines cause some drivers to cut corners.

"Drivers are paid so low that they end up breaking the rules and they far exceed the maximum number of hours that drivers are allowed to operate," he said. "They become fatigued and they crash the buses."

U.S. Department of Labor stats from 2009 show the mean wage for bus drivers in New York is almost $23 dollars an hour, which comes to a little more than $47,000 dollars a year.

Hamilton says that’s true if you're a unionized driver at one of the larger carriers. He said drivers for the discount carriers, often called Chinatown buses, are paid a lot less.

His case is backed up by Michael Belzer, a professor of economics at Wayne State University who’s been studying the issue for ten years. Belzer has looked at a lot of federal safety data and found that for every 10% increase in driver pay, the probability of a crash is lowered by 40%.

But of course the discount bus industry has mainly been booming because of one thing: cheap tickets. For example, if you take an Amtrak train from New York to Philadelphia, you'll pay anywhere from 50 to $120. Hop on a discount bus and you'll get there for $10. But Belzer says those rock-bottom rates create an economic tension.

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