LaHood: DOT bus crackdown ‘is just the beginning’

WASHINGTON – The federal operation unveiled Thursday that lead to the crackdown on 26 bus agencies for “serious safety threats” is just the beginning, the U.S. transportation secretary tells WTOP.

Ray LaHood says the “fly-by-night” bus companies that were the target of the year-long investigation by the department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had previously shirked federal crackdowns, and he is intent on not allowing that to happen again.

“We want people to know when they get on a bus that it’s safe,” LaHood told WTOP Thursday morning. “This is just the beginning. The investigations continue and we may do more shutdowns in the future.”

Bus companies previously targeted by transportation authorities were “slapping another name on the bus,” and continuing their “bait-and-switch” operations, he says.

These companies take advantage of poor customers who cannot afford cars and could not otherwise travel along the East Coast. They offer service on what LaHood calls “very, very poorly equipped buses,” with drivers who in some cases are not properly trained or properly rested.

“People don’t think about safety. That’s our job,” says LaHood of the millions of travelers every year who get on board a coach, airplane, train or car and don’t consider the safety implications. “We want to make sure it’s safe.”

Some in the coach industry are very pleased to have these long-time offenders out of business.

“This is a problem that goes back years,” says Dan Ronan, senior communications director with the American Bus Association. “We are very pleased…DOT last night and over the last 36 hours has taken this action.

“We think this is very good news.”

No companies that belong to ABA were involved in the DOT investigation announced Thursday.

Ronan echoed DOT concerns about buses that “reincarnate themselves” after an incident and are back on the road less than 48 hours later with a fresh coat of paint and different DOT number.

He recommends consulting the FMCSA website for detailed information on which companies operate buses legally, and for safety scores for each.

Companies such as Megabus, Bolt and D.C. Trails have been growing very rapidly and have been very safety conscious, says Ronan.

“There are good companies that are very, very well run,” he says. “They’re not hard to find.”

Hear more of what LaHood and Ronan had to say in the full audio at right.

FMCSA shut down a total of 26 bus operations that run along the East Coast in what they’re calling the agency’s largest safety crackdown ever, citing a “serious safety threat to passengers and motorists on our roadways.”

Some of the companies operated routes out of Chinatown in D.C. and Chinatown in New York City.

One ticket seller, nine active bus companies, 13 companies already ordered to stop running and three companies attempting to apply for operating authority were also a part of the operation that targeted Apex Bus, Inc.; I-95 Coach, Inc. and New Century Travel, Inc., according to an agency release.

FMCSA uncovered a pattern of safety violations including drivers operating without commercial licenses, vehicles that were not regularly inspected and repaired and companies that didn’t enforce alcohol and drug tests.

These drivers also “had serious hours-of-service and driver qualification violations,” according to the release.

The companies transported over 1,800 passengers a year on Interstate 95 between New York and Florida, according to DOT.

New Century has multiple routes out of the D.C. area. They provide routes from Richmond and D.C. to New York City and Philadelphia, and from Baltimore to New York City.

Buses leaving D.C. pick up passengers in the heart of Chinatown at the intersection of 5th and H streets in Northwest.

A leaflet prepared by FMCSA in English, Japanese and Chinese outlines the orders to cease operations for both regularly operating companies and those that were previously told to stop business, and an order to prove why FMCSA should allow the businesses to keep their registrations:

FMCSA Order to Cease Operation

A corresponding leaflet for passengers was prepared in English, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Spanish, instructing them to comply with law enforcement officers and includes information on getting a refund:

FMCSA Passenger Instructions

Check out the full list of targeted companies here:

Full List of FMCSA Crackdown

WTOP’s Paul D. Shinkman contributed to this report. Follow Paul and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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