U.S. Pledges Another Unsafe-Bus Crackdown After Crashes

The U.S. Transportation Department, reacting to two fatal intercity bus crashes on the West Coast, said it would send specially trained investigators to find and shut down unsafe companies over the next two months.

Scapadas Magicas LLC was shut down Feb. 8 after the regulators said the firm wasn’t maintaining or inspecting its vehicles properly. One of the National City, California-based company’s three buses crashed into a car and a pickup truck Feb. 3, killing seven bus passengers and the truck driver.

The bus industry supports the crackdown and will alert regulators to companies that don’t appear to be taking safety seriously, said Peter Pantuso, president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based American Bus Association.

“These companies that continue to kill people, that continue to operate beyond the margins of safety, need to be rooted out,” Pantuso said.

This isn’t the first time regulators have pledged tougher action to get unsafe bus companies off the road. The Transportation Department shut down 26 companies in May in its largest motorcoach safety sweep. Three so-called Chinatown bus operations in New York and Philadelphia were the primary targets.

“Our fundamental goal is to ensure the safety of passengers on our roadways and save lives,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement today. “We’ve seen the tragic consequences when motorcoach companies cut corners.”

Defective Brakes

The bus involved in the Feb. 3 crash near Yucaipa, California, was ordered off the road twice last year because of defective brakes, before the company was cleared by U.S. regulators on Jan. 9 to operate without restrictions. The bus was en route to Tijuana, Mexico, after a day trip to the San Bernardino National Forest.

Nine passengers were killed and 39 others injured in a Dec. 30 bus crash in eastern Oregon involving a Canadian company, Mi Joo Tour & Travel. The driver in that crash had driven 92 hours over a seven-day period, according to the Transportation Department. Federal regulations cap driving time at 70 hours per week.

Companies with multiple, known safety violations haven’t been shut down until after a fatal crash, a pattern that has been present for years, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman told reporters in Washington Feb. 6. She cited repeated incidents the board has investigated involving poor maintenance and fatigued drivers.

Business Cost

Many companies treat safety citations and the threat of being temporarily ordered off the road as a cost of doing business, Hersman said.

State and local police are being asked to increase their efforts to enforce violations of traffic laws by buses, including speeding, improper lane-changes, texting and using handheld mobile phones, the Transportation Department said today. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is conducting a top-to-bottom analysis of its oversight of the bus industry, the department said.

The Transportation Department announcement followed a morning meeting among LaHood, FMCSA administrator Anne Ferro, the bus association’s Pantuso, and representatives of the United Motorcoach Association, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and safety groups, Pantuso said.

LaHood and Ferro seem to be working to build on lessons from last year’s Chinatown bus sweep and to replicate it across the country, Pantuso said.

“They have the same frustrations we have,” he said.

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