In recent months there have been several high-profile accidents, which regrettably involve the loss of life and could have been prevented. In the aftermath of these accidents, FMCSA declared five bus companies to be an imminent safety hazard to the public, and the government has ordered those five shut down. We salute this effort, and urge the FMCSA to continue its effort to find these illegal companies and take whatever action is necessary to get these buses off the road.
As president and CEO of the American Bus Association, I am here to tell you that all bus companies are not created or operated equally, and the members of our association have a deep and unshakable commitment to safety. In many cases our members are small and medium-sized family businesses that have been operated in a professional, dependable and safe manner for many, many years and they are proud of their well-deserved reputations for safety and integrity.
The ABA and our members are appalled by the actions of a small handful of people who are damaging the reputation of an entire industry. These illegal operators are not members of the ABA. In order to become and stay a member of the ABA, a bus company must have a satisfactory Department of Transportation rating, and the ABA strongly encourages our members to obey all of the state and federal laws and use best practices when it comes to the important issues such as bus maintenance and driver performance and fatigue.
The FMCSA and the states need more resources to do their jobs. Sky Express was one of the companies declared an imminent safety hazard. Yet, in late May an accident involving one of its buses left four people dead. After its operating authority was revoked, federal officials say the company tried to stay in business by using other names and repainting its buses. Sky Express had one of the worst Department of Transportation Safety records, in the bottom 1 percent when it came to the driver fitness category; in the last two years, its drivers were cited 17 times for unsafe driving violations.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, buses are the safest form of surface transportation available, exceeding trains and cars. Our members take great pride in what they do, offering the public a safe and affordable way to get from place to place, and because of that strong commitment to safety, the number of people riding on buses is steadily increasing to now more than 750 million passenger trips annually, equal to the number of people who fly on commercial airlines.
Because of our commitment to safety, the ABA is concerned about one proposal being discussed as part of the reauthorization bill, and it involves unscheduled roadside inspections of buses, while passengers are being transported. Our first concern is for passenger safety and comfort, and roadside inspections cannot accommodate passenger needs for air conditioning, heating, restrooms, food service or waiting areas. In addition roadside inspections do not allow for any accommodations in regards to passengers with disabilities. ABA cannot support stopping of vehicles at random, as enforcement actions must be targeted and based on cause.
Numerous studies have shown that if we can get the illegal bus companies off the road, before they pick up passengers, the industry can make even bigger strides in safety.
We would encourage anyone who is considering a trip by bus to go to our website, www.buses.org, or www.safersys.org, a website run by FMCSA, to get more information about a specific carrier they’re considering.
Peter J. Pantuso is the president and CEO of the American Bus Association.