Thursday, January 10, 2013
The captain of the ferry that crashed into a Wall Street pier told federal investigators on Thursday that the vessel's thrust controls weren't working properly before the ship plowed into the dock, injuring dozens of passengers.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
A federal report says a helicopter that crashed into the East River off New York City during a sightseeing tour last year was carrying too much weight.
Friday, December 07, 2012
The driver of a casino bus that crashed, killing 15, is not guilty of manslaughter. Prosecutors had argued Ophadell Williams was so sleep-deprived and drowsy behind the wheel that it was as reckless as if he were drunk.
But a Bronx jury was not convinced. Williams faced 15 counts of manslaughter and was acquitted on all of them. He was found guilty of one count of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and sentenced to 30 days in jail, which he has already served. He has to pay a fine of $500. When he heard the verdict, Williams covered his face with his hands and wept.
Though the consequences are relatively light for Williams, the inter-city bus industry has suffered a considerable shakeup.
It was a gruesome crash that instantly raised the profile of dangerous driving conditions at many so-called Chinatown buses, the fastest growing mode of inter-city travel.
Here's how the crash went down. In March, 2011, Williams was on a dawn run to New York from a Connecticut Casino, driving for World Wide Travel, a company with a track record of pushing drivers to work long hours.
A report by the Federal Motorcoach Safety Administration found that in the moments before crashing, he’d been driving 78 mph. As we've previously reported:
"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."
The Bronx crash was one of three inter-city bus crashes in the Northeast in March, 2011, which killed a total of 17 people and injured dozens of others.
There were more to come. A bus from North Carolina bound for New York flipped on its roof in late May, killing four. Operator Sky Express was shut down by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration within hours. Bloomberg reported that Sky Express had accumulated so many violations that it could have been shut down prior to the crash.
In July, a pair of fatal crashes in New York — one inbound from Canada that left the driver dead and another from Washington that killed two — occurred within days of each other.
There were 24 motor coach crashes last year, resulting in 34 fatalities and 467 injuries, according to an unofficial tally kept by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
World Wide Travel was shuttered in June 2011, but the owner continued to operate bus service for other companies he owns, according to The New York Times. The practice of "reincarnation" had plagued regulatory efforts to punish the worst of the worst bus companies.
Not to be stopped by it's own regulations, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration the agency that oversees bus safety, along with the National Highway Transportation Safety Board ratcheted up investigations and actions against unsafe bus companies.
In May of 2011, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued rules requiring new bus lines 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.
In July 2011, Anne S. Ferro, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, told Congress she needs more enforcement powers, including the ability to inspect every long distance bus at least once a year and to conduct surprise safety stops while buses are en route. She proposed paying for the additional enforcement through raising the fee for a company to obtain an operating license from US DOT.
She pointed out, a bus license costs $300 — $50 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.
Inspections alone are unlikely to solve the problem, she argued. There just aren't enough of them. There are 878 federal and state inspectors able to conduct safety reviews of 765,000 bus and truck companies, or an average of slightly more than one inspector for 1,000 companies, the report said.
For a while it seemed like the tempers had cooled, and the regulators were backing off. Then the crackdown came.
In June 2012, the U.S. DOT shuts down 26 bus companies that operate along the most popular routes for so-called Chinatown buses: the I-95 corridor from New York to Florida. The DOT called it the "largest single safety crackdown in the agency’s history."
Federal safety investigators found multiple violations, including a pattern of drivers without valid commercial licenses and companies that didn't administer alcohol and drug tests to drivers. Ten people – company owners, managers and employees – are ordered to stop all involvement in passenger transportation operations, including selling bus tickets.
The intersection in Chinatown in New York City previously most associated with this class of bus was transformed, no longer a bustling hub roaring with the sound of diesel engines and ticket sellers competing for business with dueling calls of prices and destinations. It became a quiet side street and has remained so since.
What's to Come
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has made safety one of his top issues, is advocating for legislation with stronger teeth.
The Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety (BUSES) Act of 2011 called for a tighter controls and enforcement of bus driver screening, including calling for federal oversight of state requirements for commercial licenses.
The Motorcoach Safety Act of 2009 was also revisited after the 2011 string of crashes. It requires new buses to add seat belts and reinforced windows that prevent passengers from being ejected during an accident. The bus industry opposed both bills on cost grounds and neither became law.
New York City, which cannot regulate interstate bus safety, took the step to regulate bus stop permitting, giving more control to neighborhood leadership, known as community boards. Since then, there have not been new clusters of curbside buses competing with each other.
And as Chinese-run Chinatown buses remain discreet in New York's Chinatown, mainstream bus companies like Greyhound are expanding their curbside businesses, actively meeting with community boards to add stops in Chinatown itself.
(This report includes excerpts and descriptions from previous reporting on TN, by Alex Goldmark, Jim O'Grady and Tracie Samuelson.)
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
(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.
Tuesday, June 05, 2012
Almost everything seems to have gone wrong in last year's fatal Bronx bus ride from a Connecticut casino that left 15 dead. That's according to the National Transportation Safety Board's final report on the March 11, 2011 crash. The gruesome accident brought on a cascade of criticism about safety in the rapidly growing inter-city bus industry, proposals for federal and state legislation, and tough Department of Transportation crackdowns.
The driver had seven license violations and was suspended eight times in the six years prior to the crash -- but lied to his employers about that. In the three days before he drove off I-95, he got almost no sleep.
Truckers saw him traversing rumble strips, and watched as the driver made no correction and drifted off the road before hitting a guard rail. And the guard rail was "not designed to re-direct a heavy vehicle such as a motor coach," investigators said.
Investigators also ran simulations that showed seat belts, which were not available to the passengers, could've saved lives and prevented injuries.
The NTSB also released an animation showing the bus careening along the guard rail before crashing into a sign and tipping over the edge.
NTSB investigator Tom Barth said the passengers returning from the casino trip "had planned to gamble, but not with their lives."
We'll link to the report as soon as it's posted.
Friday, May 18, 2012
(New York, NY - WNYC) Documents released by federal investigators show the driver involved in a deadly Bronx bus crash when returning from a Connecticut casino last year was hired in 2007 to drive a city bus. An MTA background check kept Williams off the road, but only until a private company hired him.
On his job application with the MTA, driver Ophadell Williams admitted his driver's license had been suspended from 1996 to 2003 because of "child support." He also wrote, "I made a couple of mistakes in my life."
That did not stop the MTA from hiring him. But then a background check revealed Williams had failed to disclose a pair of felony convictions. A superintendent, on finding that out, wrote in a memo that "It is imperative that Mr. Williams" termination be completed as soon as possible." Williams resigned a few days later, after two weeks on the job. The MTA says Williams never got behind the wheel of a bus with passengers.
Private tour bus operator World Wide Travel hired Williams as a driver in 2010. He was driving a bus for the company in March, 2011, when he crashed on I-95, killing 15 passengers.
National Transportation Safety Board documents released today show that Williams' cellphone and rental car were in almost continuous use during the three days before he made a pre-dawn run from Connecticut to New York City--times when he said he'd been sleeping. A preliminary report last year said Williams was speeding at 78 miles per hour shortly before he lost control of the bus, which struck a highway signpost.
A toxocology test cleared Williams of drug use, and a breath test that he took at the scene of the accident showed that he hadn't been drinking.
The NTSB says it will release "an analysis of the collision, along with conclusions and its probable cause" on June 5. Williams has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Documents released by federal investigators show the bus driver involved in a deadly Bronx crash when returning with passengers from a Connecticut casino last year was hired in 2007 to drive a city bus.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
On Wednesday we heard from NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman about a recommendation by the U.S. Safety Board for a national ban on cell phone use while driving. The recommendation states that all states should ban cell phone use for drivers. We got a lot of listener response to the segment. We asked two listeners to join us on the show to talk about their reactions.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Deborah Hersman, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board, went on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show Wednesday morning to talk about the Board's recent recommendation for a national ban on cell phones.
She also fielded calls from listeners -- like Lisa in Forest Hills, who called to ask about generational differences in cell phone capabilities. "I'm 45," she said, "and if I try to have a conversation while I'm driving, unless it's with someone physically in the car it's very distracting." So: if you grew up talking on cell phones, is it different?
Hersman said the generational differences have to do with the actual activity, not level of distraction. She said while older drivers talk more -- younger drivers are different. "What they're doing much more than talking is texting, or posting to Facebook, or tweeting," she said.
And are hands-free devices safer than holding the phone next to your ear? "What we're concerned about," said Hersman, "goes back to...the cognitive distraction. How the brain is engaged, and not just the hands or the eyes. It's that you're focusing your attention away from the task at hand...accidents develop and happen in the blink of an eye."
To which Brian interjected: "It's Siri versus the NTSB at this point."
Karen in South Harlem called in to say she's often "a completely cognitively alert passenger" on highways between the city and the Adirondacks. Frustrated by the amount of texting while driving she says she witnesses, she wanted to know if she could participate in "a citizen's arrest situation" using her cell phone -- either to call law enforcement or to photograph offenders.
Hersman wasn't willing to deputize passengers, but she agreed that there needed to be a mechanism in place to report on activities like this -- "just like if you suspect someone's drunk driving, making sure those types of things are reportable to law enforcement and they know how to handle those are important."
But the question of what constituted a distraction behind the wheel got the attention of both callers and Brian. Is listening to talk radio distracting? Music? Or eating? Why are those things any less dangerous than talking on the phone?
"Distractions have been around since the Model T," Hersman said, "whether it's people eating, or looking at things on the side of the road or reading billboards...I think there are a lot of distractions but what we're seeing with personal and portable electronic devices is that they're becoming more prevalent, being more used, and people are being more distracted behind the wheel."
You can listen to the segment below, or swing on over to the Brian Lehrer Show page, where you can also take part in the discussion via the comments section.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
The National Transportation Safety Board released recommendations on Tuesday for a national ban on cellphone use while driving. The ban would also urge states to prevent drivers from using hand-held devices. It is said to be one of the most far-reaching efforts to date. "Every year, new devices are being released," NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said. "People are tempted to update their Facebook page, they are tempted to tweet, as if sitting at a desk. But they are driving a car."
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Federal investigators today called for a nationwide ban on using cell phones while driving.
"More than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents," said National Transportation Safety Board chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving."
The Board is normally charged with investigating accidents, not setting policy.
The board's recommendation came on the heels of an investigation into a multi-car pileup that happened in Missouri last August, when a pickup truck ran into the back of a truck-tractor that had slowed due to an active construction zone. The pickup truck, in turn, was struck from behind by a school bus. That school bus was then hit by a second school bus that had been following. Two people died and 38 others were injured.
According to the NTSB's press release, the investigation revealed that the pickup driver sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes preceding the accident. The last text was received moments before the pickup struck the truck-tractor.
Department of Transportation Ray LaHood has made distracted driving one of his key issues. When he unveiled crash statistics for 2010 earlier this month, he announced a new category: the "distraction-affected crash” measure, which collects data about the role distracted driving plays in accidents. He wrote in a blog post that "data confirms that driver distraction continues to be a significant safety problem. For example... more than three-quarters of the drivers told us they answer calls on all, some, or most trips when they're behind the wheel."
Friday, July 15, 2011
On July 17, 1996, Trans World Airlines Flight 800, a Boeing 747-131 jetliner, took off from John F. Kennedy airport and gradually ascended along the Long Island shore. It was on its way to Rome via a stop in Paris. About 12 minutes into the flight, an explosion occurred, followed by several others.
TN Moving Stories: NY Tells Bikers "Don't Be A Jerk", and Demand for Used Cars Is Up...And So Are Prices
Monday, May 09, 2011
Demand for used cars is up -- and so are the prices. (NPR)
Transportation officials are planning a number of security upgrades along Los Angeles County's network of rail lines over the next year, including a chemical-detection system and scores of new video surveillance cameras. (Los Angeles Times)
The NYPD said two episodes of subway tunnel trespassing this weekend weren't terror-related, but they warn the city's subway system is so big it's possible for intruders to enter blocked areas. (AP)
A new report says Philadelphia has twice as many bike commuters as any other large city. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Nicole Gelinas op-ed in Sunday's Star-Ledger: Xanadu isn't infrastructure, unless you're a teenager.
NYC unveiled its "Don't Be a Jerk" bike safety campaign. Watch the video below to see the DOT chief experience what must be a moment of catharsis (her cameo is at :15).
Been wondering what Viennese bike rap looks like? Your wait is over.
The US Post Office issues "Go Green" stamps; out of each sheet of 16, five are transportation related: “Share rides,” “Choose to walk,” “Ride a bike,” “Use public transportation,” and “Maintain tire pressure.” (Alt Transport)
Oh, if only: imaginary instructions for an Ikea-made car. A Djiloriann, no less. Click the link for visual. (College Humor via Curbed)
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In case you missed it on Transportation Nation:
--the Northeast reaps nearly $800 million in Florida's rejected high-speed rail funds -- but will the trains really be high speed? (link)
--NY Senator Schumer: Xanadu money should have gone to ARC tunnel (link)
--consensus has been reached on NY's Central Park bike ticketing (link)
--San Francisco will charge your electric car for free through 2013 (link)
Friday, April 15, 2011
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.
TN Moving Stories: NTSB To Look At Discount Bus Industry, South Korea Upgrades HSR, And British Posties Dismount
Monday, April 04, 2011
The National Transportation Safety Board will conduct a comprehensive review of the discount bus industry and the safety regulations governing it following a crash in the Bronx last month that left 15 passengers dead. (New York Times)
Inspectors have found small, subsurface cracks in three more Southwest Airlines planes that are similar to those suspected of causing a jetliner to lose pressure and make a harrowing emergency landing in Arizona. (AP via Washington Post)
South Korea will expand and upgrade its high speed train network over the next 9 years to cut travel time from the capital to major cities to under an hour and a half. (AFP)
Los Angeles will start testing its Expo Line; trains may formally roll in Westside in November. (Los Angeles Times)
Posties -- British mail carriers -- have been ordered to stop delivering mail via bicycle in a bid to cut down accidents and speed up delivery times. (The Mirror)
The Chicago Transit Authority is trying to revamp how it leases retail space on its properties, because "sixty-six of the 137 concession spaces at CTA rail stations are vacant." (Chicago Tribune)
Are bicycles more like cars or pedestrians? Discuss. (New York Times)
Transportation Nation stories we're working on: despite loud protest on both sides, bike lane poll numbers remain remarkably stable, only a minority wants Prospect Park West bike lane removed entirely. Congress may actually reauthorize FAA funding bill; LI buses saved, for now, Orlando suburban businesses kill plan to add a median to a busy roadway, arguing it would impede customer access to their shops, and transportation proves extremely popular in NYC big apps contest.
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Wednesday, March 30, 2011
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The Senate Commerce Committee held a wide-ranging hearing on motor coach safety Wednesday. You can watch an archived webcast here.
During the hearing New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg announced the company that operated one of the buses involved in this month's deadly crashes was taken out of service. National Transportation Safety Board Chair Deborah Hersman also updated the committee on federal investigations, including a mention that calls one driver's version of events into doubt. Read the full story at WNYC.
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Wednesday, March 30, 2011
The budget bus that crashed in the Bronx and resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen passengers was going up to 78 miles per hour when it flipped on its side, it was revealed Wednesday during a Senate committee meeting on motor coach safety in the wake of three crashes in recent weeks.
TN Moving Stories: Automakers Struggle To Win 20-Somethings, Britain's HSR Woes, and Navigating by iPad
Monday, February 28, 2011
Automakers struggle to market cars to the younger generation. (NPR)
Joan McDonald --Gov. Cuomo's choice to head the New York State Department of Transportation -- is scheduled to go before lawmakers today in Albany, talking budget and transpo funding. (Wall Street Journal)
High-speed rail in Britain has had cross-party support, but it's now facing opposition on environmental grounds. (Telegraph)
Navigating by Apple: the FAA is allowing some pilots to use iPads instead of paper charts. (Autopia)
Turf battle: the FAA and the NTSB are sparring over who has access to safety data. (Wall Street Journal)
MetroCard vandals are becoming more aggressive in some parts of New York. (NY Post)
The NY Daily News's Pete Donohue writes: "The MTA is paying hired-gun lawyers more than $540 an hour to deny token booth clerks earning $18 an hour a modest raise."
If Karsan wins NY's "Taxi of Tomorrow" competition, will they assemble part of the vehicle in Brooklyn? (Brooklyn Paper)
The National Journal debates Rick Scott's rejection of high-speed rail in Florida.
New York City is eyeing ways to maximize parking meter revenue. (NY Daily News)
More than $4 million in federal funds is ready to fuel passenger train service across New Hampshire. But legislation proposing to disband the N.H. Rail Transit Authority has stalled the effort. (Nashua Telegraph)
Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: Washington State has reached an agreement with the DOT over high-speed rail funds. A new report says improving transit in outer boroughs is key to NYC's job growth. And Houston's bicyclists and pedestrians win a small victory.
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