New York Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer, a notable proponent of transportation safety improvements in America, is urging federal lawmakers to revisit their regulations on charter buses in the wake of a fatal Queens bus crash, which follows on the heels of other high-profile bus crashes across the U.S.
Sen. Schumer is looking to expand upon a 2012 law—that he helped pass—by more prominently listing a bus operator’s safety grade, in a similar style to the letter grades restaurants in New York City receive. He is joined in his efforts by fellow New York senators and by safety advocates, who have long called for improvements in charter bus safety.
The pursuit of stronger regulations come on the heels of a report identifying the 10 most dangerous buses operating in NYC.
Letter Safety Grades on Buses May Help Passengers Avoid Danger
Speaking at a news conference on October 1, 2017, Sen. Schumer said that the existing safety grades for bus operators do not do enough to protect passengers because they can be difficult to locate.
“While there are safety grades when someone gets on a bus, they have no idea what they are.” Sen. Schumer explained. “[Safety grades] are required to be posted on the websites, but they are posted in such a small, hidden way no one sees them.”
His urging for the revisal came after a fatal Queens bus accident nearly two weeks before, on September 18, 2017. A charter bus operated by Dahlia Group, Inc. crashed into a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) bus, killing the driver of the charter bus as well as a passenger on the MTA bus and a pedestrian who was nearby at the time of the accident. Officials learned, not long after the crash, that Raymond Mong, the driver of the Dahlia bus, was moving at 58 miles per hour, which is nearly double the posted speed limit in the area. They also discovered that the MTA fired Mong following a three-car accident that he fled from. Mong ultimately received a DUI in connection with the crash.
Bus Safety Grades Similar to NYC Restaurant Grades
Sen. Schumer displayed the well-known “A,”, “B” and “C” letter grade signs that have gained notoriety at restaurants throughout New York at the press conference. He suggested that posting similar signs, which New Yorkers are already familiar with, in charter bus windows would quickly alert passengers to the potential risks of traveling with that bus operator.
This simplified and more visible system would be in contrast to current requirements that bus operators need only display safety grades on their website. Other New York senators have suggested that safety grades should also be displayed at the point of ticket sales and departure points.
In addition to asserting that the letter grade system would quickly alert passengers to the safety standing of a bus operator, Sen. Schumer believes that the visibility of the safety grade would provide much greater incentive to bus operators to obtain and maintain a higher grade, as a lower grade could be detrimental to business.
Report Finds Six Bus Operators More Dangerous Than Dahlia in NYC
Sen. Schumer is far from alone in his efforts to bring attention and change to the charter bus landscape in New York City. A group of five Democratic New York senators joined together with safety advocates to release a report on the “10 most dangerous buses” in the city, 10 days after the Queens bus accident.
The report is titled “Violations by the Busload: An Investigation Into the Most Unsafe Bus Companies Operating in New York” and highlights the ten bus operators in the city with the worst track records.
Dahlia, the bus company involved in the Queens MTA bus crash, is on the list, and with good reason. The company has 11 violations and a total of three fatal crashes in the last 14 years, two of which occurred while taking passengers to local casinos. More surprising is the fact that the company ranks only seventh on the list, with six other bus operators holding worse records in the city.
Two hundred and forty-nine bus companies were analyzed in the report, and the worst was determined to be Sagbus Inc., an operator with only one bus and one driver on record. The single bus/single driver Sagbus received 18 violations in the two-year period measured for the report. Those violations include failing to obey traffic control devices and speeding, including traveling in excess of 15 miles per hour above the speed limit.
Yep Tours, ranked second worst in the report, had 212 violations, of which 34 were for unsafe driving.
Senator Marisol Alcantara, a Democratic senator from Manhattan who was involved with the report, said that the Queens bus accident preceding the report is a stark reminder of the need for improvements.
“The tragic crash last week, which led to the deaths of three people, underscores the urgent need for accountability in our intercity bus service,” Sen. Alcantara said in a statement. “Passengers and the general population should be able to trust that convicted drunk drivers will not be driving commercial buses on crowded streets.”
Charter Bus Issues Have Plagued New York
The concerns over Dahlia and the recent attention to Sagbus and Yep Tours have made headlines, but the bus operator problem in New York City is nothing new. Operators have dismissed rules and racked up fines for years, and politicians and community members have struggled to maintain stronger safety standards.
A September 24, 2017, New York Times article titled “Budget Bus Lines Flout the Rules With Little Consequence” gives a brief history of some of the struggles, especially with the oft-fined Yep Tours, who they say has been able to keep steady passengers—despite safety concerns—due to their cheap fares.
The article says local legislators are limited in the action they can take, and reinforces the call to action on a federal level, lest repeat incidents like the Dahlia and MTA bus collision take place.