After a deadly intercity bus crash in Queens last month, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer is urging the federal government to fully implement a bus safety ratings system. As he explained in a recent letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, a 2012 law requires bus carriers to post safety ratings on buses and at ticket counters. The law has never been enforced.
On Sept. 18, a driver who had been fired by the MTA, crashed a bus in Flushing, killing three people including himself. The operator, the Dahlia Group, has a checkered safety record. The company operates in violation of state law, without a permit, in Queens and on the Lower East Side.
Schumer, the Senate Democratic Leader, put out a statement yesterday:
On the heels of the terrible Dahlia crash and new information that shows there are other bad actors out on the streets, some worse than Dahlia, your gut reaction is to ask what more can be done to prevent these kinds of crashes and improve the culture of safety… But in this case, we have a law I passed in 2012 that can not only help solve this problem, but can better inform the public, too. That is why I am asking the federal Department of Transportation to hit the gas on a federal letter-grade system for private bus companies. The companies that spend money to ensure a culture of safety will rise to the top, and the bad actors who disregard the value of safety and human life will fail to survive unless they improve. We need a federal letter grade system for bus safety that mirrors the one we have for New York City restaurants because the public is in the dark on just who is violating the law and how dangerous their charter may be.
An article in the New York Times last week, singled out Yep Tour, Inc., another discount operator, which picks up passengers on Pike Street on the Lower East Side. “Yep has been hit with 210 safety violations in just the past two years,” reported the Times, “34 of them for unsafe driving, according to records from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.” The story noted that the city’s Department of Transportation issued a six-month permit for Yep, after the company filed a federal lawsuit. Community Board 3 was strongly opposed to granting a permit to Yep because it flouted state law for years, ignoring a requirement to obtain a permit.
In Schumer’s press release, he referred to, “a New York State Senate report released this past week showing that nearly half of the private bus charter companies in New York City had unsafe driving violations.” The report identified the 10 companies with the worst safety records. At least five of the firms operate on the Lower East Side/Chinatown.
STATE SENATE REPORT – TOP 10 WOPRST BUS COMPANIES (SAFETY)
- SAGBUS (Flushing): 4 unsafe driving violations
- Yep Tour, Inc. (Massachusetts): 34 unsafe driving violations*
- No. 1 Bus Tour (21 Allen St.): 9 unsafe driving violations*
- Safari Tour, Inc. (Brooklyn): 3 unsafe driving violations
- SOE Tour, Inc. (Massachusetts): 11 unsafe driving violations
- K Line Tours, LLC (Yonkers): 5 unsafe driving violations
- Dahlia Group (Flushing): 7 unsafe driving violations*
- Eastern Coach (Massachusetts): 15 unsafe driving violations*
- Victoria’s Transportation Co. (5 Division St.): 12 unsafe driving violations*
- Jet Tours USA (New Jersey): 4 unsafe driving violations
[*Known LES/Chinatown operators]
It should be noted that the State Senate report was issued by the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group that caucuses with Republicans in Albany. Republican opposition forced former Sen. Daniel Squadron and former Assembly member Sheldon Silver to water down their intercity bus regulation law enacted several years ago. Now the IDC is proposing increased fines against unsafe bus operators.
In his years in office, Squadron struggled to implement the law, which was meant to address both safety and quality of life issues caused by the unruly discount bus industry. Before resigning this past summer, he led a task force that worked with local law enforcement agencies to go after rogue bus operators. Now State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou (Silver’s successor) tells us she prepared to reactivate the task force. In a statement. she said:
The recent intercity bus crash in Queens highlights the need to increase oversight over this industry. On the Lower East Side and Chinatown, we are far too familiar with intercity buses and the impact they can have on our neighborhoods. That is why I look forward to regrouping the intercity bus task force, whose purpose was to increase coordination among government agencies overseeing this industry. It is critical that we tackle the transit and parking challenges brought on by these buses, as well as the safety issues highlighted by the incident in Flushing. I look forward to working with Community Board 3, our local police precincts, the City Sheriff, DOT, DOF and other stakeholders as we look to improve enforcement and safety around intercity buses.
More to come…