Thursday, September 27, 2012
The driver at the helm of a tour bus that crashed in a horrific accident last year, killing 15 passengers, knew the risks of fatigue and drove anyway despite a serious lack of sleep, prosecutors said Thursday as his manslaughter trial began.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
By Kate Hinds
(with Martin DiCaro, Washington, DC, WAMU) Operator fatigue played a key role in a fatal bus crash -- but the NTSB says the driver wasn't the only one asleep at the wheel.
In a newly-released, often scathing report, the National Transportation Safety Board says "lack of adequate oversight" by the federal government was a contributing factor in a bus crash that killed four people in Virginia in 2011.
Sky Express, the bus company, failed to "exercise even minimal oversight of its drivers' rest and sleep activities" and allowed its drivers to behind the wheel "while dangerously fatigued," the NTSB has concluded.
The NTSB, which released the report at a board meeting on Tuesday, also takes the federal government to task for allowing the company to continue operations "despite known safety issues."
At the time of the May 2011 crash, Sky Express was still legally on the road even after being cited for more than 200 violations in the 10 months prior to the crash, according to NTSB records. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was working to shut the company down, but gave it a ten-day extension to fix safety problems. The crash happened during the extension period.
“Sky Express has no written safety policies including no driver’s handbook, they had no written drug and alcohol policy, they had no seatbelt policy, they had no cell phone policy, they had no in-service training,” said NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt.
The driver, Kin Cheung, faces four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said she felt like it was Groundhog Day at the board meeting in Washington because the agency is once again talking about a bad carrier.
“This accident happened in 2011. We still have not figured out how to get the worst of the worst off the road,” Hersman said. The now-defunct Sky Express had been fined several times over the years -- but she said the $2100 in penalties it incurred did not spur it to safety.
“Clearly the penalty scheme is not a deterrent to putting tired drivers on the road, or putting unsafe vehicles on the road, because they continue to do it year after year after year,” Hersman said.
The NTSB's animation simulation of the crash is below.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Authorities have ordered Double Happyness Travel to immediately cease operations declaring it an imminent hazard. U.S. Transportation officials say they found numerous violations related to vehicle maintenance. They also say the company failed to follow driver safety rules, including regular drug and alcohol testing and regulations governing the length of shifts.
Doubly Happyness takes passengers from Albany, Baltimore, and Wilmington, to stops in midtown Manhattan and Chinatown in New York City.
Calls by the AP to the company's headquarters in Huntingdon Valley, near Philadelphia were not returned. According to the government shutdown order, Double Happyness filed at least 49 false reports no driver activities, meaning that more than 20 percent of driver hour logs were falsified, double the number deemed "critical" to ensure drivers are getting enough breaks and rest to adhere to safety regulations.
According to a DOT press release, the Federal Motor Safety Administration has doubled inspections and safety reviews of the nation's 4,000 bus lines in recent years and "Roadside motorcoach inspections have jumped nearly 100 percent, from 12,991 in 2005 to 25,705 in 2010, while compliance reviews are up 128 percent, from 457 in 2005 to 1,042 in 2010."
Ridership has also spiked. Despite a series of high-profile crashes this year, a DePaul University study found the curbside bus industry, including "Chinatown buses," grew by almost 30 percent in 2011.
The Federal Department of Transportation teamed up with local law enforcement agencies to execute a crack down on bus carriers with about a week of ramped up surprise inspections around the nation in September.
Monday, October 31, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) So-called "Chinatown buses" that pick up and drop off passengers at the curb have more fatal accidents and fail more inspections than traditional larger carriers who operate out of bus terminals, according to a report by the the National Transportation Safety Board. Curbside carriers with fleets of 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 in March that killed 15 passengers.
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 say 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 says 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 there are 1.15 inspectors for every 1,000 bus companies.
And there's a problem, the report says, 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 this morning to about 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 says.
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
By Jim O'Grady
(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.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(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.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) It's been a busy week on the radio side of Transportation Nation. So we thought we'd assemble the great reporting work our partners have been doing from around the country into one ad-hoc podcast for your weekend listening pleasure.
It's about half an hour long, just right to keep you company making that Sunday brunch, or driving home from visiting mom.
What's in the Transportation Nation ad-hoc podcast you ask?
WNYC had reporters in New York City and in Denmark compare the copacetic world of cycling in Europe with the contentious attempts to build a bike lane network back home.
The Takeaway tackled the details of the latest budget deal that appear to have derailed high-speed rail funding in many ways.
KALW introduces us to the most dangerous mile of public transit in the San Francisco area, gun shots, on-board assaults and all.
Marketplace checks in on the trend of cash-strapped cities trying to privatize their parking spots. Hint: it looks like you'll be paying more for meters.
The Takeaway also looked into the latest spat over sleeping air traffic controllers. Just how overworked are they? And hasn't this always happened occasionally on the night shift?
WNYC tried to find out what regulations need to change to improve bus safety after a series of crashes left 17 dead. Here, the former head of the NTSB says he doesn't need to wait for the official report, the whole industry needs to change. (TN version of the story)
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Friday, April 15, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) A report by federal investigators says a tour bus that crashed on Interstate 95 in the Bronx last month was speeding at 78 miles per hour shortly before it struck a highway signpost, killing fifteen passengers. The bus was returning to New York on a pre-dawn trip from a Connecticut Casino.
Driver Ophadell Williams said the March 12 accident began when a tractor trailer truck cut him off and struck the bus. But investigators say they found no evidence of an impact between the bus and another vehicle. And sensors on the bus' engine show it was moving at top speed down a southbound lane of the Hutchinson River Parkway only 45 seconds before impact.
Listen to an interview on this with Transportation Nation's Alex Goldmark.
According to the report, the bus swerved to the right off the highway, crossed an eleven-foot wide shoulder and smashed into a three-foot-tall steel guardrail. The bus plowed through the guardrail for 480 feet as it toppled onto its side. The bus' windshield hit the post of a massive highway sign, which sheared the bus in two along the base of the passenger windows almost all the way to the rear. The bus came to rest on top of the crushed guardrail, its wheels in the air, facing the highway.
Friday, April 15, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
The budget bus that crashed on I-95 in the Bronx killing 15 passengers last month was speeding at 78 miles per hour moments before the tragic accident, a report by federal investigators revealed.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Passengers of a tour bus that crashed in the Bronx killing 15 people this month have filed suit claiming the driver was at fault.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
The driver of the long distance bus involved in a deadly crash last weekend lied on applications for his driver's license, according to the governor's office.