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FMCSA Fails to Prevent Bus Accidents, Part 2

In our previous blog post, we summarized an article in the Boston Globe about bus safety, curbside carriers and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. In this post, we detail the struggles of the agency as it tries to keep an ever-growing number of bus passengers safe.

The lax oversight is provided by the FMCSA is supposed to change. Recent agency rule changes have focused attention on the discount bus lines. Complete safety reviews are now required every two or three years, and several hundred bus companies were shuttered as a result of more stringent inspection schedules in 2013. However, despite the promise of more frequent inspections, more than 200 operators with at least one safety violation on the books have not been inspected in at least two years. There are more than 500 interstate bus companies in operation with excessive violations, showing that stepped up enforcement is still more a dream than a reality.

At the end of 2013, interagency warfare appeared to break out. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) criticized the FMCSA for its failure to act on reports of unsafe buses prior to crashes, crashes that could have been averted if the FMCSA had acted.

Is it an issue of funding and resources? Although the number of bus miles travelled has more than doubled since 2000, in part because of the entry of discount carriers into the marketplace, the number of investigators has remained more or less constant since that time. The curbside buses, so named because they do not use stations or terminals but pick up passengers on the street, have an accident record that is seven times that of conventional carriers. The number of curbside bus departures in the U.S. doubled between 2010 and 2014, to 1,000 per day.

The problems are not limited to the curbside bus companies. Greyhound, the country's largest interstate bus carrier, has no safety violations outstanding. However, it has had 123 bus accidents with four fatalities and 63 injuries. It had not had a safety audit since 2007, with the previous audit conducted in 1995.

Peter Pan, a New England company that offers trips between Boston and New York every hour, had a safety audit in August 2013. Its previous audit was in 2007.

The FMCSA appears to be trying to protect bus travellers as their numbers grow, but whether it will receive the funding it needs to prevent bus accidents is unknown.