CHINATOWN — Certain low-cost curbside bus lines are seven times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than traditional bus operators, according to a new safety study released Monday.
The National Transportation Safety Board found that, while coach bus travel is generally safe, small, curbside carriers with 10 or fewer buses that have been in business for 10 years or less are significantly more likely to be involved in accidents and are more likely to cause death and injury than traditional operators who rely on bus terminals instead of curbside pickups.
The carriers, whose popularity has exploded in recent years, also log significantly more violations, including fatigued drivers, the report found.
"The lack of, whose effective oversight… has created an environment where passenger safety often comes second to profits and shortcuts," Sen. Charles Schumer told reporters at a press conference in Chinatown announcing the results of the study, which he requested, along with Rep. Nydia Velazquez, following a series of deadly crashes involving low-cost carriers earlier this year.
On March 12, a World Wide Travel motorcoach returning to the city from Mohegan Sun flipped on its side and careened into a sign pole on I-95, killing 15 people and injured 18 others.
Days later, a tour bus on its way to Philadelphia from Chinatown crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing two people and injuring 40 more.
"The crashes waved a red flag about these curbside carriers," said Deborah Hersman, chair of the NTSB, who described the existing information as "very limited and in many cases incomplete."
In addition to the higher accident rates, the report listed a series of barriers that make it tough for federal and state authorities to regulate the industry, including unreliable and misleading data, police officers’ reluctance to issue tickets to speeding bus drivers, and the ease with which carriers can operate under multiple names.
Schumer is pushing legislation that would create a grading system or all motor coach companies, similar to the city’s restaurant grading system, with As, Bs, Cs and Ds awarded based on safety. Companies would have to post the grades in bus windows and online, giving passengers clear information about a company’s safety record.
Schumer and Velazquez are also pushing for legislation that would allow for mid-route inspections, instead of just at pick-up and drop-off points, and would increase fines for violations, which they say are currently so low that many companies simply accept them as the cost of doing business.
“Safety should not take a back seat to low cost and convenience,” said Velazquez, who noted that there are more than 2,000 weekly bus arrivals and departures in Chinatown alone.
Following the press conference, Joanna Chow and her sister, Susanna, whose grandparents died in the World Wide Travel crash, approached Schumer to urge him to continue his push for safety improvements.
“That driver was never supposed to be on the road,” Chow, 27, told the senator, fighting back tears.