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FMCSA Fails to Prevent Bus Accidents, Part 1

We have blogged before on the dangers of so-called "curbside buses." A February investigation by the Boston Globe pointed out serious safety and regulatory problems that endangered the lives of millions of passengers report. The bottom line: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which oversees the bus industry, is stretched too thin to handle the rapidly growing number of discount bus companies. The result is that drivers fail drug tests and license reviews but keep on driving.

Buses are the fastest-growing segment of the interstate travel industry, but oversight activities have not increased at the same rate. For example, a Boston-area discount bus line, Crystal Transportation, operated for five years with drivers who had failed drug tests and exceeded maximum driving time limits. Federal regulators finally shut down the company's operations, although it has since restarted. But this is one example of many problems with discount bus carriers.

According to the Globe report, one in four of the more than 3,700 motorcoach and van companies operating in the United States today has never received a complete safety evaluation such as the one that revealed problems at Crystal Transportation. The FMCSA conducts random inspections at bus stations, parking lots and highway rest stops and gives each carrier inspected a safety rating and prioritizes it for future inspections. The agency can stop a bus from operating altogether if a spot inspection finds it in unsatisfactory condition.

However, the random inspection system leaves many buses uninspected for years.

Motorcoaches carry around 700 passengers every year in the United States, compared with 824 million airplane passengers. However, the airlines receive much more stringent oversight and safety inspections, even though the safety record of bus transport is spotty. In the period 2000 to 2012, more than 170 people were killed in bus accidents. In the same period, no one died in a plane crash.

This is the first in a two-part blog on safety in the discount bus industry.