November 1, 2011

ABA: Motorcoach inspections should take priority over trucks

More emphasis needs to be placed on inspecting motorcoaches in facilities at their point of origin or the destination, according to the American Bus Association (ABA) in its response to the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) curbside motorcoach safety report. The ABA also urged vehicle inspectors to make motorcoach inspections a top priority over commercial truck inspections.

(The ABA's response to the release of the National Transportation Safety Board's study on curbside motorcoach safety is posted below.)

The American Bus Association thanks the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for its comprehensive report on the safety of curbside motorcoach companies.

The NTSB’s study clearly points out the traveling by motorcoach remains the safest form of surface transportation in the U.S. The average 745 million passenger trips provided annually by the industry are done so with passenger safety and comfort in mind.

The tremendous growth of motorcoach travel to cities like New York, and the expansion of companies including Bolt, Megabus and other curbside carriers, substantiates the fact that customers agree, traveling by safe reliable motorcoaches is the best way to travel.

“Chairman Deborah Hersman, the other members of the NTSB and the staff have done a very good job highlighting the concerns we at the ABA have had for many years concerning unsafe bus companies that are operating outside the law and well below the accepted level of safety.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, (FMCSA) and the states, which oversee motor coach safety must do a better job enforcing the law,” said ABA President/CEO Peter Pantuso. “We at the ABA are here to help solve the problem with the illegal companies,” Mr. Pantuso added.

“Greyhound’s Bolt Bus is one of the leaders in curbside service and our company has a strong culture and history of safety. The NTSB report clearly indicates that there is a real need for safe and dependable curbside bus service and we are doing all we can to make sure customers know when they ride with us, we’ve done all we can to make the ride safe,” said Dave Leach, President and CEO Greyhound Lines Inc.

“Coach USA, parent company of Megabus.com supports the efforts to enforce compliance of the Federal and State regulations and has spent millions on driver hiring, training and on equipping are coaches to make them some of the safest motor coaches in the industry,” said Dale Moser, President, CoachUSA.

While all ABA members who provide scheduled and point-to-point service, whether they operate from the curb or from terminals, are safe and have the highest safety ratings, there are companies on the roads that are not operating safely and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration must do a better job finding, inspecting and shutting down bus companies that operate outside the law,” said Mr. Pantuso.

The ABA proactively has decided it will not allow any motorcoach company with an “Unsatisfactory” FMCSA compliance review score to be a member. If a company has a “Conditional” rating the company has six months to get the score elevated to Satisfactory or its membership in the ABA will be dropped. In addition, the ABA is now reviewing its database every three months to determine an operator’s safety status.

The NTSB’s report points out several areas of agreement with positions the ABA has taken.

  • The NTSB and ABA support a higher entry fee than the current $300 for a company to apply to the Department of Transportation to obtain a DOT license to carry people.
  • The NTSB report points out critical problems exist with some companies and its drivers not being able to master the requirement to speak or read English. This is an issue the ABA has addressed on many occasions to FMCSA and in the media.
  • The NTSB report says driver fatigue is a contributing factor in many accidents and a continuing safety concern. This issue is being addressed by the ABA’s Bus Industry Safety Council (BISC) and research is being done by the FMCSA by one of the country’s leading human performance/sleep experts to address ways the government, motorcoach companies and drivers can improve significantly in this area.
  • Among those areas where the FMCSA can do better: the ABA believes more emphasis needs to be placed on inspecting motorcoaches in facilities at their point of origin or the destination.
  • Vehicle inspectors should place a top priority on inspecting motorcoaches rather than commercial trucks. While commercial products, such as food, are important, people deserve a higher priority.
  • The NTSB report indicates the FMCSA’s own data base needs a thorough review and updating.
  • The NTSB report indicates a clear lack of transparency when it comes to online ticket brokers and the relationship those brokers have to particular motorcoach companies. In many cases a passenger does not know which company he or she has bought a ticket on.

The issues the NTSB addressed, driver fatigue, reincarnated carriers, the FMCSA’s data base problems, the lack of inspectors dedicated specifically to motorcoach companies, states with weak compliance and oversight and drivers who don’t speak or read English to an acceptable level are all ones that the ABA has addressed at one time or another during the last several years as the trade association for the motorcoach industry and as a leading safety advocate.

The Association does agree with the NTSB that a system should be in place to inspect new bus companies before they begin transporting passengers.

The ABA does respectfully disagree with the NTSB on the issue of en route bus inspections. Our position is bus inspections need to be done at a company’s place of business, point of origin or maintenance facility before a passenger even gets on the motorcoach to start the day or at the destination.

We believe this is an important safety issue for passengers because it is likely, while the bus is being inspected, the passengers would be left along the side of the road without a safe place to congregate, there would be no food or drinking water available or rest room facilities. Passengers also may have to make connections to other motorcoaches or airplanes and a delay would impact their schedules.

For people with disabilities this would be a critical concern as well. If a motorcoach were to be pulled over a rest facility, that’s still no place for an inspector to be adequately check the condition of a bus. It is not a maintenance facility.

“When people get on an airplane they have a right to know that aircraft and airline is operating to the highest level of safety. An airplane would never be forced to land en route so an inspector could check the logbooks of a pilot or an aircraft. This should be the same with buses. We support inspections, they are vital. However, conduct compliance reviews and spot inspections in places where they do the most good, not pulled over on the side of a road,” said Mr. Pantuso.

En route inspections currently would be difficult to do, because as the NTSB report indicates, bad motor coach companies “engage in practices that make oversight difficult.” In other words, they break the law, by repainting buses, re-registering the company in a relative’s name, avoiding weight stations, having multiple DOT numbers or operating from states that have a well-known lax reputation and history when it comes to motorcoach inspections and regulation.

“It is ironic and confusing that state and federal inspectors say they, in many cases, cannot find the bus companies or motorcoaches so they can inspect them. The passengers know which curbside they need to go to and the ticket brokers publish the drop off and pick up locations on their websites,” said Mr.Pantuso.

Motorcoach transportation is 20 times safer than driving your personal vehicle. The ABA has taken the lead role supporting two critical pieces of legislation that would improve motorcoach safety, House Bill 1390 and House Bill 2459. H.R. 1390 addresses a range of motorcoach safety issues and uses specific, scientific research to make motorcoaches structurally stronger. H.R. 2459 would create a national clearinghouse, available to motorcoach companies and law enforcement, with detailed driver drug and alcohol information on their website,” said Mr. Pantuso.

The NTSB’s report clearly indicates that the good companies are doing an excellent job. “Motorcoach safety is not a function of whether passengers are picked off and dropped off at a curbside or a terminal or how much passengers are charged for fares. Rather, motorcoach safety, including curbside safety, is strongly influenced by the management of the management of the carriers that own these vehicles and the drivers that operate them.”NTSB report, Chapter 4: Conclusions.

This report also indicates that curbside motorcoach carrier safety issues are a larger concern especially in New York City and parts of the northeast, where there are a much higher number of companies currently operating or possibly planning to start up curbside service. There have also been a higher percentage of accidents in the northeast, including the March, 2011 crash involving World Wide Tours. The New York Times reported this month the company has reincarnated itself and is operating again, despite being listed as OUT OF SERVICE on the FMCSA’s website. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/05/nyregion/bus-company-shut-after-i-95-crash-reappears-under-new-name.html?_r=1&ref=buses

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