Thursday, May 31, 2012
(New York, NY -- Tracey Samuelson, WNYC) UPDATED Twenty-six bus operators that transported more than 1,800 passengers a day along Interstate 95 between New York and Florida have been closed for safety violations in what federal officials say is the government's largest single safety crackdown of the motor coach industry.
Speaking in Chinatown Thursday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that over the course of a year-long investigation, his agency learned these companies were "blatantly and repeatedly" violating federal safety laws, including using drivers without valid commercial licenses and failing to do drug and alcohol testing.
"Shutting them down will save lives," LaHood said.
Teams of officials for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, armed with legal orders declaring the bus operations imminent hazards to public safety, swooped down Wednesday on companies based in six states: Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Officials withheld details about the operation until Thursday.
The shutdown orders were aimed at the companies' headquarters and at bus pickup locations. Most of the 233 bus routes serviced by the companies either departed from or terminated in New York City's Chinatown district.
Besides the shuttered bus operations, 10 people - company owners, managers and employees - were ordered to stop all involvement in passenger transportation operations, including selling bus tickets, the Transportation Department said.
The shutdowns are the culmination of a yearlong investigation by the safety administration that focused on three primary companies: Apex Bus Inc. and I-95 Coach Inc., both of New York, and New Century Travel Inc. of Philadelphia. Each of the three companies oversaw a broad network of other bus companies, officials said. The other bus operations targeted in the crackdown were companies that were affiliated with one of the three primary companies but have other names.
Phone calls and emails to the three companies seeking comment were unanswered.
The shut-down companies are "very, very bad actors," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday.
"This is a huge, big deal for us today," LaHood told reporters on a conference call. "This isn't some overnight deal -- this is something we've been working on, and we want people to know bus safety is one of our top priorities."
Safety officials have long complained that their attempts to put unsafe bus operators out of business are frequently thwarted by "reincarnated carriers" that simply reopen for business under a different name or in a different location, or that transfer their buses to an affiliated company that shares similar ownership.
Buses belonging to such rogue companies are known in the industry as "ghost" buses because they are frequently painted white with relatively little decoration to make it easier to repaint them with a new company name.
The motor coach industry transports more than 700 million passengers a year in the U.S., roughly the same as the domestic airlines.
Bus industry officials said they have been urging the government to crack down on unsafe operators and were aware of the investigation before the shutdowns.
"These businesses have been doing all they can to operate far below the accepted level of safety," said Dan Ronan, a spokesman for the American Bus Association.
Wednesday's shutdowns applied to nine active bus companies; 13 bus companies that had lost permission to operate but were continuing to operate anyway; three companies that were in the process of applying to the government for operating authority; and a bus ticket seller.
Federal safety investigators found all of the carriers had multiple safety violations, including a pattern of using drivers who didn't have valid commercial driver's licenses and failing to administer alcohol and drug tests to drivers, according to the safety administration.
The companies also operated buses that had not been regularly inspected and repaired, and their drivers were violating work schedule and rest requirements and didn't have proper qualifications, officials said.
The safety administration began investigating the network of carriers operating along I-95 following a series of deadly bus crashes last spring.
On March 12, 2011, a bus returning to Chinatown from an overnight trip to a casino in Connecticut hit a barrier in the Bronx, toppled on its side and slid into a sign pole with such force that it was sheared in half from front to back.
Of the 32 people on the bus, 15 were killed, and the rest were injured, some severely. The driver, Ophadell Williams, has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
Documents released by federal accident investigators show the bus was speeding at the time of the accident and that Williams' driving privileges had been suspended 18 times over 20 years. World Wide Travel of Greater New York, the bus company, was ordered to shut down for safety violations after the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to hold a meeting Tuesday to determine the probable cause of the crash.
In May 2011, a bus traveling from Greensboro, N.C., to Chinatown veered off I-95 in Virginia, hit an embankment and overturned. Four passengers were killed, and 50 were injured. The driver acknowledged falling asleep, according to court documents.
The bus operator, Sky Express Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., had been cited for 46 violations of driver fatigue rules in two years. The company was ordered to shut down after the accident, but within days it resumed business under two new names, according to the Transportation Department. That prompted a second shutdown order from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Several other bus companies were also ordered to shut down last summer after a comprehensive compliance review of their operations.
"The investigation of those operators uncovered additional problems and serious safety violations with other I-95 carriers, and ... investigators have been working diligently ever since to establish the links between the bus networks," the safety administration said in a statement.
But the safety administration, which works with states to enforce safety regulation of interstate bus companies, is overburdened, an NTSB report released last fall said. 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.
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.
(With the Associated Press)
Here's the full DOT press release.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced today it has shut down 26 bus operations, declaring them imminent hazards to public safety. This action is the largest single safety crackdown in the agency’s history. Additionally, FMCSA ordered 10 individual bus company owners, managers and employees to cease all passenger transportation operations, which includes selling bus tickets to passengers. The bus companies transported over 1,800 passengers a day along Interstate-95, from New York to Florida.
Following a year-long investigation, FMCSA shut down three primary companies - Apex Bus, Inc., I-95 Coach, Inc. and New Century Travel, Inc. – that oversaw a broad network of other bus companies. The 26 shutdown orders apply to one ticket seller, nine active bus companies, 13 companies already ordered out of service that were continuing to operate and three companies attempting to apply for operating authority. The various companies are based out of Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Federal safety investigators found all of the carriers had multiple safety violations, including a continuous pattern of using drivers without valid commercial driver's licenses (CDLs) and failure to have alcohol and drug testing programs. In addition, the companies operated vehicles that had not been regularly inspected and repaired. The companies’ drivers also had serious hours-of-service and driver qualification violations.
These many safety deficiencies, individually and in combination, posed a serious safety threat to passengers and motorists on our roadways.
“These aggressive enforcement actions against unsafe bus companies send a clear signal: If you put passengers’ safety at risk, we will shut you down,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Safety is and will always be our highest priority.”
“The egregious acts of these carriers put the unsuspecting public at risk, and they must be removed from our highways immediately,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “With the help of multiple state law enforcement partners, we are putting every unsafe bus and truck company on notice to follow the safety laws or be shut down.”
In addition to the Imminent Hazard Orders, FMCSA is taking further steps to ensure the bus companies they shut down today cannot continue to operate under other names. Under a new FMCSA rule, FMCSA has revoked the carriers’ operating authority and linked the active companies to other companies previously placed out of service. This new rule, published in April, expands FMCSA’s authority to take action against unsafe motor carriers that attempt to evade enforcement by “reincarnating” into other forms or by illegally continuing their operations through affiliate companies. FMCSA will continue to work closely with local, state and federal law enforcement officials to ensure these companies remain out of service.
FMCSA began investigating the network of carriers operating along I-95 following a series of deadly bus crashes last spring. FMCSA ordered several bus companies to shut down last summer after a comprehensive compliance review of their operations. The investigation of those operators uncovered additional problems and serious safety violations with other I-95 carriers, and FMCSA investigators have been working diligently ever since to establish the links between the bus networks.
Over the last several years, the DOT has taken aggressive efforts to strengthen motorcoach safety and enforcement. The DOT has doubled the number of bus inspections of the nation's estimated 4,000 passenger bus companies -- from 12,991 in 2005 to 28,982 in 2011. Staying committed to the Motorcoach Safety Action Plan, in January 2010 FMCSA banned texting by commercial drivers, and in November 2011 the agency prohibited commercial drivers from reaching for, holding or dialing a cell phone while operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). Earlier this year, FMCSA also released the SaferBus mobile app to give travelers a quick way to view a bus company's safety record before buying an interstate ticket or booking group travel.
Earlier this month, FMCSA and its state and local law enforcement partners conducted safety inspections of motorcoaches, tour buses, school buses and other commercial passenger buses in 13 states and the District of Columbia. This effort resulted in over 2,200 safety inspections and the successful removal of 116 CMV drivers and 169 buses from the roadway for substantial safety violations.
Congress is also currently considering surface transportation legislation which, if passed, would adopt several new safety policy proposals to further protect bus customers, including:
- Granting FMCSA greater authority to pursue enforcement action against unsafe “reincarnated” companies by establishing a single national standard for successor liability that eliminates the loophole allowing bus and truck companies that have been shut down for unsafe operations to recreate themselves;
- Eliminating the jurisdictional gap that prevents FMCSA from directly regulating passenger carrier brokers, including ticket sellers that are not also motor carriers;
- Enhancing FMCSA and its state partners’ authority to inspect buses at locations with adequate food, shelter and sanitation facilities for passengers;
- Requiring new passenger carriers to undergo a full safety audit before receiving operating authority; and
- Raising the penalty from $2,200 to $25,000 a day against passenger carriers that attempt to operate without valid USDOT operating authority.
Consumers are also encouraged to report any unsafe bus company, vehicle or driver to the FMCSA through a toll-free hotline 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238) or FMCSA's online National Consumer Complaint Database.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Airlines Post Best December On-Time Record, Lowest December Cancellation Rate in 17 Years
No Tarmac Delays Longer than Three Hours on Domestic Flights or Four Hours on International Flights in December
The nation’s largest airlines posted an on-time arrival record last December of 84.4 percent, the highest on-time percentage for any December during the 17 years the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has collected comparable flight delay data. According to DOT’s Air Travel Consumer Report, the carriers also had a 0.8 percent rate of canceled flights, the lowest December cancellation rate for the last 17 years.
The December on-time rate posted by the 16 reporting carriers was up from the 72.0 percent rate of December 2010, but down slightly from November 2011’s 85.3 percent, according to data filed with the Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). The carriers’ on-time percentage for all of 2011 was 79.6 percent, compared to 79.8 percent in 2010.
December’s 0.8 percent cancellation rate was down from December 2010’s 3.7 percent rate but up from November 2011’s 0.7 percent.
Airlines also reported no tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights or more than four hours on international flights in December. The larger U.S. airlines have been required to report long tarmac delays on their domestic flights since October 2008. Under a new rule that took effect Aug. 23, 2011, all U.S. and foreign airlines operating at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats must report lengthy tarmac delays at U.S. airports. Also beginning Aug. 23, carriers operating international flights may not allow tarmac delays at U.S. airports to last longer than four hours. There is a separate three-hour limit on tarmac delays involving domestic flights, which went into effect in April 2010. Exceptions to the time limits for both domestic and international flights are allowed only for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons.
The monthly Air Travel Consumer Report also includes data on chronically delayed flights and the causes of flight delays filed with BTS by the reporting carriers. In addition, the report contains information on airline bumping, reports of mishandled baggage filed by consumers with the carriers and consumer service, disability and discrimination complaints received by DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division. This report also includes reports of incidents involving pets traveling by air, as required to be filed by U.S. carriers. Calendar year 2011 data are contained in the report in a number of areas as well as data for December 2011.
A news release on the report is available at http://www.dot.gov/affairs/2012/dot2412.html. The full report is available at http://airconsumer.dot.gov/reports/index.htm. Detailed information on flight delays is available at http://www.bts.gov.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
(Billings, MT – YPR) – The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) said today it has no intention of requiring farmers and ranchers to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to drive farm equipment or haul livestock trailers on roads.
"We want to make it absolutely clear that farmers will not be subjected to new and impractical safety regulations," said U.S. Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari. "The farm community can be confident that states will continue to follow the regulatory exemptions for farmers that have always worked so well."
FMCSA launched a review on the enforcement of regulations on agricultural operators to ensure consistent access to exemptions for farmers and to ensure public safety.
Some farm groups, however, raised an outcry. They said proposed rules under consideration could have required farmers and ranchers to obtain a CDL, a medical card and fill out a log book as if they were long-haul semi drivers.
FMCSA says it received about 1700 comments by the August 1, 2011 deadline.
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro says the vast majority of comments called for the agency to continue to allow states to grant exemptions for agriculture.
“We want to make crystal clear that we are not imposing any new regulations,” says Ferro.
That’s good news, says Montana Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Jake Cummins. “We were assured that their intent was to improve safety so our goal was to demonstrate that in fact we operated in a safe environment already and that the closest agencies to that process were the states not the federal government back in Washington, DC,” Cummins said. “So we think this is a good outcome clearly our efforts to persuade them were successful and we’re happy to hear that.”
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
(Matt Dellinger – Transportation Nation) Earlier this month, Shelley Poticha, the senior adviser at the Department of Housing and Urban Development in charge of the office of Sustainable Communities, flew into Madison, Wisconsin, to visit the annual gathering of the Congress for the New Urbanism. It was after dinner on a Thursday night, and a small group of community leaders from across the country gathered in a vacant ballroom to hear the latest on livability from Poticha, the former president of Reconnecting America, an organization that promotes transit-oriented development, and a former executive director of the CNU (she has the group’s charter on her office wall, she told the group).
Many of the planners and architects and local officials had been on the receiving end of her initiative’s Sustainable Communities planning grants, some $150 million of which were awarded last October. The grants—and indeed Poticha’s office in general—seek to encourage cooperation and coordination at the local level among federal agencies, primarily the U.S. Departments of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Agriculture. As Lynn Richards, a representative from the EPA, described it that night, “When you're putting in a road, you're doing your storm water management at the same time, then you can facilitate the clean-up of a brownfield site next to your transportation hub and have affordable housing on top of that.”
To those who’d come to meet Poticha, the benefits of this type of coordination were obvious, and they were grateful for it. For over an hour, grant recipients took turns describing how far this federal collaboration (and largess) would carry their communities—urban and rural, in every state in the country—toward greater cohesion and sustainability.
But the Obama Administration’s livability initiative had been politicized, at a time when the opposition party was looking to cut government programs. “Our office was lined out of the budget for 2011 and we were out for months,” Poticha told the group. “I think it's only because people in communities called up their representatives that we are still here.” She was happy to report that her office was already getting ready for the next round of grants, which would be $100 million in 2012. “We survived the continuing resolution, we didn't get as much money as the first year, but we're still in business.... We finished 2011, we're now working forward on 2012 and actually I got called to a meeting for 2013,” she said, suggesting perhaps that the White House was internally confident in its agenda and prospects for a second term.
Especially with less money to distribute, Poticha expects the next round of grants to be even more oversubscribed. “It's enormously beneficial to a very non-partisan program like this, that there were many, many, many more applications than we could fund. There were many excellent applications that we could fund and we're hoping the people who did excellent applications come back... because that shows the legislative branch that there are people in their communities who want to do this stuff. And we should be supporting them because it's ultimately about being able to make more cogent decisions, financially prudent decisions, using resources more efficiently.”
Both Poticha and Richards used the familiar hard-to-turn-an-oceanliner metaphor in describing their struggle to harmonize these mammoth federal departments and their national and local offices to collaborate in basic ways. “Part of what our job is to do is to mediate there a little bit. But it's also just going to be a bitch. It's going to be really hard because we're going to have to change the rules by which these monies are sent out,” Poticha said. “Behind the scenes part of what we're doing is trying to build a capacity of these federal folks who have never been asked to be problem solvers, who have never really been taught and educated and been able to really engage in many of these issues, to be your real partners in communities. And that's a huge part of the kind of legacy that we're trying to build here so that when I'm gone it's continuing to live and it's part of the DNA, so to speak.”
Getting federal agencies to spend their dwindling budgets in harmonious ways seems to many conservatives like a wise idea. And at least one conservative Republican Governor, Rick Snyder of Michigan, has embraced the Obama Administration’s livability efforts. Many consider the initiative a non-partisan effort to make government work better.
But some prominent conservatives detect sinister and socialistic intentions. The day after Poticha appeared at the CNU, Oregon Representative (and bike champion) Earl Blumenauer gave a talk. “People in this room know that good planning and design saves money and solves problems. Bad planning, or no planning, and stupid design ends up costing money.” But there were competing worldviews that were clashing in state capitals such as Madison and in Washington, DC.
Confident that most in the room shared his perspective, he went on, tongue in cheek: “Over the course of my checkered career, we’ve been developing an agenda we call ‘livable communities’ so as not to intimidate anybody.” Despite some opinions to the contrary, he said, this plan was “not social engineering so that people do things they don’t like, forcing them onto bikes at gunpoint, squeezing them into those friendly, walkable communities, herding them into streetcars.” Rather, he said, it was about choices. “To make the government, especially the federal government, a better partner, and taking simple, common sense steps to revitalize, strengthen, and make sustainable the places where we raise our families.”
Yet some people are still afraid of being forced onto streetcars. George Will called Ray Lahood the “Secretary of Behavior Modification.” And more recently, a tea party group in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., took to actively fighting livability-funded planning efforts. In March, the Jefferson Area Tea Party held a forum called “The Deceptive Agenda of Sustainability in Local Government,” where they gave a seminar about alleged United Nations-led policies “openly dedicated to global government control over every aspect of our lives including housing, energy, water, food production, transportation, population control, education, social welfare...all in the name of sustainability.” The Jefferson Area Tea Party is not at all happy that the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission got almost a million dollars from Poticha’s initiative.
In case anyone’s interested, Thomas Jefferson himself (quite the independence-minded tea partier his day), was a fan of government-assisted urban planning. In the late 1700s, Jefferson collected city plan drawings from European cities such as Amsterdam, Strasburg, Paris, Lyons, Marseilles, and Milan, and brought them here to the land of the free to give to Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the planner of the new nation’s capital. He also made a shameless attempt to infest these new streets with European building types. “While in Europe,” he wrote to George Washington in 1781, “I selected about a dozen or two of the handsomest fronts of private buildings, of which I have the plates. Perhaps it might decide the taste of the new town, were these to be engraved here, and distributed gratis among the inhabitants of Georgetown. The expense would be trifling.”)
Speaking of trifling expenses, the $150 million Poticia’s office gave out last year would be barely enough to build a new highway interchange.
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
"Average domestic air fares rose to $337 in the fourth quarter of 2010, up 5.2 percent from the average fare of $320 in the fourth quarter of 2009 (Table 1), the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reported today. Newark-Liberty, NJ, had the highest average fare, $461, while Atlantic City, NJ, had the lowest, $156.
"Fourth-quarter fares decreased 0.9 percent from the third quarter, the second consecutive quarterly decline after four increases.
"BTS, a part of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, reports average fares based on domestic itinerary fares, round-trip or one-way for which no return is purchased. Fares are based on the total ticket value which consists of the price charged by the airlines plus any additional taxes and fees levied by an outside entity at the time of purchase. Fares include only the price paid at the time of the ticket purchase and do not include other fees, such as baggage fees, paid at the airport or onboard the aircraft. Averages do not include frequent-flyer or “zero fares” or a few abnormally high reported fares.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
U.S. DOT Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and State Law Enforcement Agencies Conduct Thousands of Surprise Passenger Carrier Safety Inspections Nationwide; Strike Force Inspections Remove 289 Unsafe Passenger Buses and Drivers
WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and its state and local law enforcement partners across the nation recently conducted 2,782 surprise passenger carrier safety inspections over a nine-day period that resulted in 289 unsafe buses or drivers being removed from our roadways.