It’s taken a series of deadly mistakes to make the U.S. perk up and pay attention to the downside of the boom of bus travel, which has flown largely under the government radar for some time.
Responding to recent deadly tour bus accidents, teams of federal inspectors will target bus companies with a history of problems as part of a national crackdown aimed at weeding out unsafe operators, the government said Thursday.
Over the next two months, inspectors will examine companies with a history of accidents or whose buses have been pulled off the highway by police and inspectors for safety violations, officials for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said. Inspectors will also physically inspect buses when they visit bus companies, rather than rely only on company maintenance records, as has been past practice, officials said.
The agency is working with state police to step up the number of buses pulled over violations. Federal inspectors will also be combing the agency’s databases to find bus companies that share ownership or addresses, officials said.
It is not unusual for bus operators who have been shut down for safety violations to shift their buses and drivers to an affiliated company operating under another name. Safety officials call them “reincarnated” or “chameleon” carriers. Their buses, which are often white with minimal signage or identifying information so that they can more easily be repainted, are sometimes referred to as “ghost” buses.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Anne Ferro, head of the motor carrier administration, also met with bus industry officials and safety organizations Thursday to discuss how the government might ferret out unsafe bus operators.
“We’ve seen the tragic consequences when motor-coach companies cut corners and do not make safety a top priority,” LaHood said in a statement.
Eight people were killed and dozens injured after a tour bus crashed into a pickup truck in San Bernadino, Calif., earlier this month. Nine people were killed and 38 others injured when a tour bus crashed in northeastern Oregon just before New Year’s. Both bus companies have since been ordered by the government to shut down for safety violations.
A post-crash investigation of Scapadas Magicas LLC, the bus operator involved in the California crash, found that the company’s two other buses that had been operating in the U.S. had serious mechanical safety violations and that the company failed to have its vehicles regularly inspected.
The driver of the bus that crashed in Oregon had worked 92 hours in an eight-day stretch, surpassing the federal limit of 70 hours, an investigation found. The bus company, based in Vancouver, Canada, has since been shut down and the driver barred from driving buses in the U.S.
The motor carrier administration has 400 inspectors, investigators and auditors. The agency, which works closely with state police, currently oversees the safety of 525,000 motor carriers, such as interstate buses, tractor-trailers and household-goods movers. That includes more than 4,000 interstate bus companies responsible for more than 700 million passenger trips annually.
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Photo Credit: In this Feb. 4, 2013 file photo, an official takes notes at the scene of a tour bus crash near San Bernardino, Calif. Nick Ut / AP Photo