WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bill requiring the creation of new safety ratings for low-cost discount bus operators and better disclosure of these ratings passed the full Congress on July 1 and is headed to the President’s desk for a signature.
The bill mandates that the Federal Motor Carriage Safety Administration create a simple and understandable rating system so passengers can compare the safety performance of each bus company and annually reevaluate carriers that primarily serve urban areas with high passenger loads, such as New York. The system rewards companies with strong safety records and serves as an incentive for companies to improve their safety records.
The American Bus Association said June 28 it supports the transportation reauthorization bill agreed to by a House-Senate Conference Committee. ABA is in agreement with lawmakers on key safety provisions that will dramatically enhance motorcoach safety for the traveling public and ensure motorcoaches remain the safest form of surface transportation.
The bill requires the Department of Transportation to improve the accessibility of these ratings to the public and to consider requirements that ratings be posted on buses, at terminals and all points of sale.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) originally proposed the legislation last year in response to numerous fatal crashes involving the discount tour bus industry, including a crash in the Bronx that left 15 dead. The legislation will ensure that passengers have an accurate representation of the company’s safety record when selecting their carrier so that consumers can make more informed decisions about which bus companies they should patronize.
Schumer is urging the FMCSA to make the safety rating plan a letter grade system, similar to that used in New York City restaurants.
The surface transportation bill includes numerous other safety requirements which will raise the bar for motorcoach safety:
- Requires that commercial motor vehicles have electronic logging devices for recording hours-of-service to ensure that drivers are complying with hours of service rules put in place to keep fatigued drivers off the road.
- Requires that the DOT conduct a study on driver fatigue and maximum driving time requirements focusing on the 34-hour restart rule.
- Establishes a national repository for records relating to alcohol and controlled substances testing of commercial motor vehicle drivers and bars employers from hiring a driver unless he or she has not violated alcohol and drug rules for the past three years.
- Requires bus safety standards to improve occupant protection including seat belts, roof crush strength, anti-ejection window glazing, tire-pressure monitoring and rollover prevention.
- Provides the Department of Transportation with greater authority to crackdown on reincarnated carriers and companies who fail to disclose a poor safety record from the past.
In addition, the bill:
- Requires, no later than 18 months from the date of enactment, that all carriers applying for operating authority must prove understanding of federal rules by completing a written examination.
- Mandates that all new passenger carriers must undergo a safety review no later than 120 days after receiving operating authority.
- Prohibits a motor carrier applicant from applying for new authority for three years if they are found to have been previously been declared unfit. It further allows the Secretary of Transportation to require a registration update within thirty days if a carrier changes addresses, contact information, officers, process agents, or other essential information.
- Increases the penalties for operating an unfit passenger coach company to $25,000 for each violation.
- Authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to impound commercial vehicles of companies deemed an imminent hazard to public safety, including fleet-wide impoundment. It further requires states that place a passenger carrier out of service to provide reasonable and secure temporary shelter and accommodations for passengers in transit. Regulations promulgated under this section must include the consideration of public safety, protection of passengers and cargo, inconvenience to passengers, and security of the vehicle.
- Raises the penalties for evasion of regulations and opens subsequent violations to criminal prosecution.
- Requires motorcoach carriers to be reviewed every three years by the Department of Transportation.
- Provides for greater flexibility in rural transportation programs. Changes should enable bus operators to serve more rural Americans by offering affordable, clean transportation options while connecting isolated rural areas throughout the country to larger communities.
- Makes permanent the axle weight exemption for motorcoaches.
- Calls for a study to examine the benefits of public transportation companies contracting with private carriers to transport people.
“These changes, in the long run, will make our industry safer,” said ABA President and CEO Peter Pantuso in a statement. “Members of Congress have listened to what you, our ABA members, have been saying for the past several years regarding common sense, science-based safety improvements.”
Sources: Metro-Magazine; American Bus Association