April 24 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Transportation Department shut down a Washington-based bus company specializing in tours and parties, intensifying federal investigations of safety breaches by bus companies.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said in a statement today that Washington DC Party Shuttle, which also operated in New York City, hired a driver who tested positive for drugs or alcohol. The company’s buses were found to have numerous mechanical violations.
“We are making good on our pledge to get unsafe bus companies off the road,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “We are committed to protecting the traveling public.”
The bus regulator has closed eight companies since a Mexico-based operator, Scapadas Magicas LLC, crashed a bus in California Feb. 3, killing eight people. Today’s action was the first shutdown since a team of 54 investigators targeting high-risk carriers began work this month, the agency said.
The company shuttered today does business as Onboard DC Tours and operated primarily as a tour-bus service in the Washington metro area. It used two buses to run a similar business in New York City from the location of an out-of-service company, the agency said.
The Onboard DC Tours website indicates it specialized in tours of landmarks such as the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and memorials on the National Mall. It also offered outings to Mount Vernon and Alexandria in Virginia. After beginning in New York, the company has been operating in Washington and Las Vegas, according to the website.
The FMCSA is using new authority from a transportation law Congress approved last year, according to agency spokesman Duane DeBruyne. It has twice suspended or revoked operating authority for companies that obstruct safety investigations.
The agency’s bus investigators on April 1 started fanning out in teams of two, paired with a federal or state vehicle inspector, to look at companies and equipment, according to a summary released by the American Bus Association April 8. They’re targeting 250 companies with poor safety records, especially those with driving violations, as well as companies with no known place of business or maintenance facilities, the Washington-based trade group said.
The agency’s investigation “revealed egregious violations demonstrating Washington DC Party Shuttle’s blatant disregard for motor-coach passenger safety,” according to the U.S. shutdown order.
The company “repeatedly used a driver known to have tested positive for controlled substances” to carry passengers, and it lied to investigators about whether it had stopped using the driver, the order said.
Investigators found the company sent an bus taken out of service back on the road before repairs were made, the order said. After inspections, FMCSA investigators ordered three-fourths of the company’s buses off the road, it said.
“Every passenger stepping onto a commercial bus or van is entitled to a safe driver and safe vehicle,” Anne Ferro, head of the FMCSA, said in the statement. “Our safety regulations do not discern among passenger carriers’ business models -- our sole focus is on safety.”
Washington DC Party Shuttle Chief Executive Officer Thomas Schmidt didn’t immediately respond to a phone call and an e-mail seeking comment.
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