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Discount Bus Accident Shines Light on Safety Issues

A bus bound for New York City from Washington, D.C., crashed into a guard rail on Interstate 95, putting five injured people in the hospital. The bus, operated by the discount line Megabus, drove onto the right should and hit the guardrail a little after 3:30 PM, according to the Maryland State Police.

The driver later told authorities that he believed the crash was the result of a mechanical problem. Discount intercity bus companies have had spotty safety records in recent years, with several highly-publicized fatal crashes caused either by driver error or maintenance issues. Several so-called Chinatown bus lines - buses that run between Chinatowns in major cities -- have been shut down by the federal government because of negligence and poor safety records.

Local governments have also tried to regulate discount bus lines. For example, the city of Baltimore, Maryland, requires all bus companies operating out of that city to submit information about all buses in the fleet, It also requires them to follow a set of safety guidelines to be able to stop in that city to pick up or discharge passengers.

Other types of bus companies have also been scrutinized in recent years because of poor safety records. Tour buses and charter bus lines, especially those delivering passengers to casinos, have been found to have poor safety records because of shoddy maintenance and poor driver training. The result has been numerous high-profile crashes that killed at least two people in California since August 2013. A terrible bus accident killed 14 people in the Bronx in 2011; the passengers were returning to NYC after a night at a Connecticut casino.

People cannot assume that the buses that transport them to the casinos without charge (the casinos pay the fare) or inexpensive intercity bus lines operate under the same safety standards as established and scheduled intercity buses. Traditional bus lines such as Greyhound and Peter Pan, both of which serve New York City and New England, compete with the lower-cost bus lines, but adhere to more stringent safety standards - two of the reasons they cost more.

Established bus lines also cost more because they must pay fees to terminal companies, such as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. This gives them the right to arrive and leave from the Port Authority terminal in Manhattan. However, the discount bus operators simply load and discharge passengers at designated street corners, further reducing the cost of operation.

People might well ask - is the low cost worth compromising safety?

Source: DNAInfo, "Five in Hospital After NYC-Bound Megabus Crash," Apr. 19, 2014.