Bus companies shut down for safety violations

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Federal 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, officials said.

Elana Benamy, who lives in Philadelphia and works at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, said she had been taking buses operated by one of the shuttered companies regularly to visit her mother in New York. She liked the convenience of the Chinatown drop-off site and the $24 round-trip price couldn’t be beat. Now, she said, she’ll have to use another bus company and two subway trains to get to her mother’s apartment.

But Ms. Benamy said she had long assumed the drivers suffer from fatigue. “They’d pull in from a grueling ride and then they load up and take off again” with no time for rest, she said.

The safety administration began investigating the companies following several deadly bus crashes last spring, officials said.

On March 12, 2011, a bus returning to New York’s 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 the bus was sheared in half at the window line 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 Mr. 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. The National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to hold a meeting Tuesday to determine the probable cause of the crash.

On May 31, 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.

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 in-depth 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.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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