Low-cost, discount buses that pick passengers up from street curbs are seven times more likely to become involved in a fatal crash than buses operated by traditional motor coach companies that depart and arrive at a central terminal, according to a newly released report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The report, prompted mainly by the Bronx bus crash that killed 15 people and injured 18 last March after the driver allegedly fell asleep at the wheel, says that bus travel generally remains safe, but that smaller discount carriers have higher accident rates and a higher rate of safety violations.
The report was ordered by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) shortly after the horrific Bronx crash.
Some key findings of the NTSB report include:
- While motor coach travel is generally safe, curbside carriers with 10 or fewer buses, and carriers that have been in business for 10 years or less have higher accident rates and higher roadside inspection violation rates.
- The fatal accident rate for curbside carriers from January 2005 to March 2011 was seven times that of conventional bus operations: 1.4 fatal accidents per 100 vehicles for curbside carriers compared with 0.2 fatal accidents per 100 vehicles for conventional scheduled carriers.
- The exclusion of buses from routine enroute inspections (especially of curbside carriers that don’t operate from terminals) reduces opportunities to discover safety violations.
- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is overburdened. For example, 878 FMCSA and state personnel are responsible for compliance reviews for more than 765,000 U.S. motor carriers, a ratio of 1.15 investigators per 1,000 motor carriers.
- Bus driver fatigue, a contributing factor in many accidents, is a continuing safety concern.
- There is a lack of transparency in ticket sales. More than conventional carriers, curbside operators use online bus brokers over whom the FMCSA has no regulatory authority.
Senator Schumer and Representative Velázquez echoed the NTSB’s findings.
“It’s abundantly clear that the oversight of this industry has not kept pace with its growth and the consequences have been deadly,” said Senator Schumer. “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.”
“When travelers board a bus, they should feel safe, whether the trip starts in a terminal or at a Chinatown sidewalk,” said Congresswoman Velázquez. “The NTSB study has revealed important information about curbside motor coach travel and, in the coming weeks, we’ll need to continue working to improve the safety regulations that govern this growing industry.”