The City Council yesterday approved a resolution urging the U.S. Congress to pass legislation – stalled for many months – to regulate discount interstate bus companies. Following a series of deadly accidents involving to so-called Chinatown buses, there was a big push to pass “The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2011.”
The proposed law would require buses to have seat belts, stronger windows, crush-resistant roofs, and it would mandate safety inspections for all new companies. Downtown City Councilmember Margaret Chin said, the federal legislation is moving too slowly, adding “These may sound like very basic things, but this is what saves lives.”
Meanwhile, local elected officials are hopeful a state bill that would set up a permit system for intercity buses in New York City will have better chances in Albany in the months ahead. Last year, the Assembly approved the legislation, but it stalled in the Senate when Republicans (and Mayor Bloomberg) balked at certain provisions.
The legislation was sponsored in the Assembly by Speaker Sheldon Silver and in the Senate by Daniel Squadron. In a statement yesterday, Silver said:
The Assembly passed my bill to regulate the intercity bus industry during the last session and I am confident that it will pass again in the upcoming session. As we have seen all too tragically this year, there is an urgent need to bring greater oversight to this industry and crucial protections for intercity bus passengers, many of whom are my constituents in Chinatown. I urge the Senate to pass our legislation and I support efforts at the federal level aimed at bringing much-needed safety improvements to these buses.
Republicans, including Brooklyn Senator Marty Golden, oppose a section of the bill that would authorize the City Council to detail interstate bus regulations. The Republicans, and the city’s Department of Transportation, believe the Bloomberg Administration should have the power to set rules for the proposed bus permit system.
We understand negotiations are underway to bridge the gap between the two sides. Last summer, the Senate approved a Republican-backed bill mandating background checks for drivers. The legislation fell far short of what Silver and Squadron were advocating. The contours of a compromise and the timetable for re-introducing legislation remain uncertain.