Buses don’t kill people, overworked drivers do

In the week that has passed since a Chinatown bus returning from Mohegan Sun Casino crashed on the highway in the Bronx and killed 15 passenger, buses are on the brain. I’ve overheard many personal accounts in bathrooms, restaurants and yoga class of experiences on these buses that traverses the North Eastern Seaboard for a fraction of price charged by major bus companies.

Many stories were similar to the audience input during a  segment of “The Call,” (a live show on New York 1 hosted by CUNY J School Prof John Schiumo) last Tuesday devoted to the Chinatown bus cash.

I travel the I 95 corridor all the time (New England Thruway). These Casino buses are always traveling at speeds of at least 70 to 80MPH. ….They are very aggressive,” wrote in one listener.

“On my trip to Baltimore on Friday, the Bolt Bus I was on was pulled over. Not only was he going 80 on a somewhat congested New Jersey Thruway, tailgating, swerving, and weaving in and out of traffic – he was also drunk! We must have far greater safeguards in place. It appears there is no regulations in place,” said another person.

And on the other side of the argument, were comments like:

“I travel the Chinese bus every other weekend to see my children. I don’t know that I could do it if the price was hiked up. I have to be honest, I use the same company every time and I have never felt fear for my safety. But I have ridden a Mega Bus to Pittsburgh and I definitely could feel the speed on that bus. I do believe in regulation but there are so many people in the same boat as me who would not be able to travel without these discount travel services.”

The day before this show, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Senator Chuck Schumer called on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to “broadly investigate safety regulations that govern the discount tour bus industry.”

“The low-cost intercity bus travel industry along the Northeast Corridor has expanded rapidly in recent years and it appears safety regulations haven’t kept pace.  There needs to be a thorough, extensive review of all rules governing these bus operators, so we ensure tragedies like the one on Saturday don’t happen again,” Ms Velazquez said in a press statement.

Would regulation improve the situation? City Councilman James Vacca, Chairman of Public Transportation Committee says federal regulation, because the buses travel interstate and are under federal authority, would be a start.

” I do believe that the MTS and the city of NY have regulations over vehicles under their jurisdiction and that the federal government would be wise to adopt over an industry that has seemed to avoid meaningful oversight to date,” Mr. Vacca wrote in an email.

“I appreciate the Senator and Congresswoman speaking out but while any legislation is an improvement, it is the federal dot that should be instituting administrative and regulatory reform and I find their silence to date deafening,” Vacca wrote.

So why are Velazquez and Schumer pressing the issue?

I think in Schumer’s case, his wife Iris Weinshall, a former NYC DOT Commissioner, might have suggested he speak out against the NTSB’s lagging regulation. And for Nydia, who appeared on Good Day New York to (basically) reiterate her press release of a growing industry that has outpaced regulation, one can suspect that her district boundaries, which includes Chinatown, could be the motivation to get involved.

Before Schumer and Velazquez took interest in the crashes, the conversation was geared toward the bus driver’s criminal history, more than a faulty system. The two politicians brought it back to a macro level and even the NTSB’s investigation, which found that the driver was fatigued, suggests a larger problem requiring a nuanced solution.

Toward the end of “The Call” segment devoted to the crash, an email in all caps was sent to the show that read,

“I AM A BUS DRIVER FOR MEGABUS.. AND I BEEN WORKING WITH MEGA FOR 2 YEARS.. AND WE ARE OVER WORK AND YES THE DRIVERS DO BE TIRED BUT IF U CALL OUT U GET WRITTEN UP AND WE NEED OUR JOBS. SOMETIME I WORK 15 HOURS A DAY OUR DRIVE TIME IS 10 HOURS AND THE OTHER 5 HOURS BE LAY OVER. BUT THE COMPANY DONT CARE ALL THEY CARE ABOUT IS PROFIT.. SOMETIME I WANT TO CALL THE D.O.T. AND REPORT THEM AND IF U TIRED ANDD U CALL DISPATCH THEY TELL U TO TRY TO FINISH UR ROUTE. AND THEN U GOT TO GO HOME AND BE BACK TO WORK THE NEXT MORING U NEVER EVEN GET UR NINE HOURS OF SLEEP AND THEY HAVE THE NERVE TO TELL U YOUR NINE HOURS START WHEN U CLOCK OUT.. AND TO BE HONEST THEY DONT SCREEN THEIR DRIVER.. I ASK MYSELF WHERE DID THEY GET THESE DRIVERS FROM… IM TRYING TO FIND ANOTHER JOB CAUSE THESE LONG HOURS IS KILLING ME.”

 

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