The fatal September 18 bus crash in Queens took the lives of three people and has prompted lawmakers to push for stricter regulations for private bus operators. Shortly after the tour bus collision in New York, reports emerged that the driver of the tour bus was fired by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) for charges related to driving while intoxicated. Despite being fired by the MTA, and having a record for drunk driving, the driver was hired by the tour bus company. The poor safety record of the tour bus driver and company involved has caused lawmakers and citizens to push for changes in how buses operate in the state.
Lawmakers Push for Stricter Bus Safety Regulations
In October, New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) and Senator Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) announced a bill that would strengthen regulatory oversight of private tour bus companies. In making their announcement, the lawmakers point out that Dahlia Bus Company, the tour bus company linked to the Flushing bus crash, and other companies have a history of questionable practices.
According to a study released by a group of Democratic New York senators, of the 10 most dangerous bus companies in New York, Dahlia bus company ranks seventh on the list with only six other bus companies deemed more dangerous. The report noted that Dahlia has 11 violations and three fatal crashes over a 14-year period. More than 240 bus companies were analyzed for the study.
Among the changes proposed by Kim and Stavisky:
- Requiring New York’s DMV to issue new credentials for bus drivers;
- Requiring bus drivers to display their credentials inside the bus; and
- Requiring the DMV to perform a yearly motor carrier audit.
“We need to empower riders with the information they need to make informed decisions,” Kim said. “With these newly issued credentials, riders can be sure that their driver is properly certified, just as they would in a taxi. Private bus companies shuttle thousands of New Yorkers from city to city every year. We need to make sure that when riders step onto a bus, they aren’t putting their lives in peril.”
Officials Release Preliminary Flushing Bus Crash Findings
Dahlia bus driver Raymond Mong was reportedly fired from the MTA in 2015 for charges related to an off-duty DWI while he was in Connecticut. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary findings related to the Queens bus crash and reported Mong sped through a red light while driving the Dahlia tour bus before he crashed into the MTA bus.
“During the collision sequence, the transit bus rotated about 180 degrees counter-clockwise,” the NTSB wrote in its report. “It then struck and pushed an unoccupied parked passenger car into another parked passenger car, which was occupied by a driver and front-seat passenger, before coming to rest… Three pedestrians were struck during the collision sequence.”
Three people died in the Flushing bus crash, and up to 16 were injured. Mong was one of the fatalities, as was a passenger on the MTA bus and a pedestrian.
Officials will continue to investigate the Queens crash as no probable cause has been identified. The report did not indicate if the bus driver had alcohol in his system or fell asleep before the crash.
“Riders should be confident that their bus driver is qualified and can safely operate a bus,” said Stavisky. “We will no longer tolerate private bus companies hiring unqualified drivers and we must continue to hold them accountable.”
City Council Members Also Push for Change in Bus Operations
At a meeting on October 26, Manhattan city councilors also pushed for change.
“We are dealing with an epidemic—an epidemic that we have the capacity to control,” said Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of Manhattan Council’s Transportation Committee.
He called on police to increase enforcement of tour bus company violations, such as curbside and moving violations. A major hurdle, however, is that intercity buses—those who travel between a city and anywhere outside it on a regular schedule—are regulated differently from charter buses, which are buses hired privately under contract. Those buses can be difficult to tell apart.
In addition to calls from Kim, Stavisky and city council members, New York Sen. Charles Schumer also called for increased oversight of charter buses. Sen. Schumer suggested charter buses be required to display letter grades linked to the safety records of the individual bus companies.
Safety advocates note that other transportation industries have stricter oversight than charter buses, putting passengers on charter buses at risk of serious and catastrophic injuries.
“Is there any reason why people who ride in buses, they aren’t treated with the same amount of respect as people who ride trains, or in planes?” asked Jeff Rosenberg, director of government affairs at the Amalgamated Transit Union.