On Monday, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to develop and implement a more clear rating system for the discount tour bus industry to provide greater disclosure of safety ratings to passengers before they purchase tickets on intercity carriers, including discount tour buses.
Sen. Schumer’s call comes in the wake of numerous crashes, some of which have proven fatal, involving the discount tour bus industry. The most recent bus crash in Virginia, operated by Sky Express Bus, resulted in four deaths. It was revealed after the crash that the company had 46 violations for fatigued driving and was involved in four previous crashes, one of which resulted in a fatality.
While safety records for operators of motorcoaches can be researched online through the FMCSA website, the information is not easily accessible for passengers who seek to purchase tickets. Schumer’s proposal would have U.S. DOT and FMCSA develop a rating system, similar to the one used for restaurants in New York City, that would indicate the overall safety record of each bus company at the point of ticket purchase.
Sen. Schumer pointed out that such a system would allow passengers to make more informed decisions and motivate the industry to improve their safety standards.
“If bus companies have a poor safety record, passengers should know about it before they purchase a ticket,” said Schumer. “It seems like every week we hear of another crash involving the discount tour bus industry. It is crucial that passengers are clearly and unambiguously alerted to a company’s safety record before they ever board a bus.”
Numerous deadly crashes in the last few months have raised serious questions about safety oversight of the tour bus industry. Two weeks ago, a Sky Express Bus traveling from North Carolina to New York City’s Chinatown crashed in Virginia when the driver fell asleep behind the wheel, killing four passengers and leaving scores injured.
That crash came on the heels of several other crashes including one in New Jersey that killed two and one in the Bronx in March which left 15 dead and scores of other injured. Many of these companies had long track records of accidents and violations.
Despite the poor safety records of some bad actors in the discount tour bus industry, it is very difficult for passengers to get an accurate picture of safety records of these companies, according to a statement posted on Schumer's website. Though the FMCSA currently has a ranking system on its website, the database is difficult to navigate and the rating system is not easy to understand, according to the statement.
Schumer called on U.S. DOT and FMCSA to create a clear and simplified rating system for the discount tour bus industry that would prominently display a letter grade that is easy to understand at the point of purchase for tickets on these buses.
Schumer said that by providing a clear rating, similar to the system used by New York City to rate the health standards of local restaurants, passengers would be better informed about the safety of the buses before they purchase tickets and would be able to make a more informed decision as to which carrier to use.
The system would also reward companies with strong safety records and serve as an incentive for companies to improve their safety records.
Schumer has a long record of fighting to improve safety of the discount tour bus industry. In April, Schumer successfully pressured the NTSB to launch an industry-wide investigation into the safety regime of the tour bus industry. Schumer also urged the Department of Transportation to speed up their efforts to remove unsafe buses and unsafe drivers from the road, and crackdown on the tour bus industry by implementing tough safety standards.
A copy of Schumer’s letter is below.
Dear Secretary LaHood and Administrator Ferro:
I write to urge that you take additional steps to inform customers about the safety records of intercity bus companies. While I appreciate the steps that the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have taken to enhance motorcoach safety and compliance, more is needed to ensure that passengers have the best information possible when choosing to ride an intercity bus. I urge you to institute a system that informs customers about the safety rating of a company in a way that is easy to understand and that is provided to customers at the point of sale and when they board a bus.
The majority of intercity carriers operating in the United States do a good job of promoting safety and deliver their passengers safely to destinations across the country. Unfortunately, there are those who chose to cut corners at the expense of passenger safety. According to FMCSA, the bus company involved in a fatal crash in Virginia last month had 46 safety violations for fatigue alone and was given an unsatisfactory safety rating by the agency. Furthermore, it was revealed that FMCSA was in the process of shutting down the company pending completion of a review. Unfortunately, this information would have been difficult to come by for passengers who boarded that bus. It is my firm belief that passengers could have been better informed of the company’s safety problems if a system had been in place to inform them of the company’s safety ratings at the point of sale and when they boarded the bus. Such disclosure would have allowed passengers to make more informed decision as to which company they chose to travel with.
While FMCSA provides customers with an online safety checklist and access to the safety information for some intercity bus companies through an online database, it does not provide riders with information that is easy to access and understand. Many people do not have regular internet access, making it difficult for them research bus companies online. In addition, the ratings given out by FMCSA - satisfactory, conditional or unsatisfactory - do not give passengers a clear indication of the level of safety of the carrier nor are they displayed at ticket counters or at online points of purchase. Customers should be provided with this information before they purchase tickets and when they board the bus and it should be presented in a way that clearly conveys the company’s safety performance rating.
New York City has instituted a system that assigns restaurants a letter grade based on their sanitation scores and requires that these scores be posted at the restaurant. This simple grading system provides customers with the information they need when choosing where to eat and a similar scheme could be used to bring more transparency to the intercity bus industry.
Thank you for your attention to this request. I look forward to working with you to promote bus safety and customer protection. If you have question, please contact my Washington, D.C., officer at 202-224-6542.