This week’s deadly bus crash in Virginia has finally prompted New York State Republicans to approve legislation beefing up safety standards on discount interstate bus lines. Yesterday, the GOP-controlled Senate voted in favor of a bill that would require all commercial drivers to undergo background checks.
On Tuesday, the same day a Sky Express bus careened off a Virginia highway, Lower East Side elected officials gathered in Chinatown, urging the Senate to act. Back in April, the Assembly passed legislation authorizing the City Council to set up a permit system for interstate bus comapnies operating in the city. Senator Daniel Squadron, who represents Chinatown and the LES, Introduced an identical bill, but it had been held up in committee. The legislation approved yesterday was not his proposal but a far more limited bill sponsored by Republican Senator Charles Fuschillo.
On NY1 last night, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called the Republican move “a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that’s needed attention for some time.” He said, “the accident happened (Tuesday), so the Senate feels all of a sudden that they have to take action. We knew this was going to happen.”
The legislation that already passed the Assembly would give the city the leeway to regulate intercity buses and to determine where they could park during layovers. In recent years, the privately run bus business has exploded in Lower Manhattan, creating congestion, sidewalk overcrowding and air pollution. Silver, who sposnored the Assembly bill, made it clear the Senate proposal was going nowhere in his chamber.
In community board hearings held during the past couple of years, Department of Transportation officials urged the state to enact legislation, saying the city lacked sufficient authority to manage the intercity bus business. But once the Silver/Squadron bill was introduced, the DOT backed away from the proposal. NY1 reported Mayor Bloomberg believes he, not the City Council, should have the authority to create new regulations. Yesterday, however, Silver held firm to his position that the Council should have a role.
Ideally, Silver said, the federal government would enact tougher regulations for intercity bus companies. Legislation is being considered in the U.S. Senate. A version of the bill now under review was introduced in the previous two Congresses, but it failed before the full chamber on both occasions. Many of the recommendations contained in the bill date back to 1968.
The current legislative push gained momentum in March, after the horrible bus crash in the Bronx that killed 15 people, many of them Chinatown residents.