The U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced it has shut down 26 bus operations, declaring them imminent hazards to public safety. This action is the largest single safety crackdown in the agency's history. Additionally, FMCSA ordered 10 individual bus company owners, managers and employees to cease all passenger transportation operations, which includes selling bus tickets to passengers. The bus companies transported over 1,800 passengers a day along Interstate-95, from New York to Florida.
Following a year-long investigation, FMCSA shut down three primary companies - Apex Bus, Inc., I-95 Coach, Inc. and New Century Travel, Inc. – that oversaw a broad network of other bus companies. The 26 shutdown orders apply to one ticket seller, nine active bus companies, 13 companies already ordered out of service that were continuing to operate, and three companies attempting to apply for operating authority. The various companies are based out of Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Federal safety investigators found all the carriers had multiple safety violations, including a continuous pattern of using drivers without valid commercial driver's licenses (CDLs) and failure to have alcohol and drug testing programs. In addition, the companies operated vehicles that had not been regularly inspected and repaired. The companies' drivers also had serious hours-of-service and driver qualification violations.
These many safety deficiencies, individually and in combination, posed a serious safety threat to passengers and motorists on our roadways.
"These aggressive enforcement actions against unsafe bus companies send a clear signal: If you put passengers' safety at risk, we will shut you down," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "Safety is and will always be our highest priority."
"The egregious acts of these carriers put the unsuspecting public at risk, and they must be removed from our highways immediately," said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. "With the help of multiple state law enforcement partners, we are putting every unsafe bus and truck company on notice to follow the safety laws or be shut down."
In addition to the Imminent Hazard Orders, FMCSA is taking further steps to ensure the bus companies they shut down today cannot continue to operate under other names. Under a new FMCSA rule, FMCSA has revoked the carriers' operating authority and linked the active companies to other companies previously placed out of service. This new rule, published in April, expands FMCSA's authority to take action against unsafe motor carriers that attempt to evade enforcement by "reincarnating" into other forms or by illegally continuing their operations through affiliate companies. FMCSA will continue to work closely with local, state and federal law enforcement officials to ensure these companies remain out of service.
FMCSA began investigating the network of carriers operating along I-95 following a series of deadly bus crashes last spring. FMCSA ordered several bus companies to shut down last summer after a comprehensive compliance review of their operations. The investigation of those operators uncovered additional problems and serious safety violations with other I-95 carriers, and FMCSA investigators have been working diligently ever since to establish the links between the bus networks.
Over the last several years, the DOT has taken aggressive efforts to strengthen motorcoach safety and enforcement. The DOT has doubled the number of bus inspections of the nation's estimated 4,000 passenger bus companies -- from 12,991 in 2005 to 28,982 in 2011. Staying committed to the Motorcoach Safety Action Plan , in January 2010 FMCSA banned texting by commercial drivers, and in November 2011 the agency prohibited commercial drivers from reaching for, holding or dialing a cell phone while operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). Earlier this year, FMCSA also released the SaferBus mobile app to give travelers a quick way to view a bus company's safety record before buying an interstate ticket or booking group travel.
Earlier this month, FMCSA and its state and local law enforcement partners conducted safety inspections of motorcoaches, tour buses, school buses and other commercial passenger buses in 13 states and the District of Columbia. This effort resulted in over 2,200 safety inspections and the successful removal of 116 CMV drivers and 169 buses from the roadway for substantial safety violations.
Congress is also currently considering surface transportation legislation which, if passed, would adopt several new safety policy proposals to further protect bus customers, including:
- Granting FMCSA greater authority to pursue enforcement action against unsafe "reincarnated" companies by establishing a single national standard for successor liability that eliminates the loophole allowing bus and truck companies that have been shut down for unsafe operations to recreate themselves;
- Eliminating the jurisdictional gap that prevents FMCSA from directly regulating passenger carrier brokers, including ticket sellers that are not also motor carriers;
- Enhancing FMCSA and its state partners' authority to inspect buses at locations with adequate food, shelter and sanitation facilities for passengers;
- Requiring new passenger carriers to undergo a full safety audit before receiving operating authority; and
- Raising the penalty from $2,200 to $25,000 a day against passenger carriers that attempt to operate without valid USDOT operating authority.
Consumers are also encouraged to report any unsafe bus company, vehicle or driver to the FMCSA through a toll-free hotline 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238).