Expansion of Bus Industry Exposes Safety Issues

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Factors like continued high gas prices, concerns over airport security, burdensome requirements, and increased fees are leading individuals to look beyond traditional automobile and air travel and seek alternative options for both short- and long-distance trips.

The bus and motor coach industry has stepped in to meet this growing demand, and travelers have responded, excited by cheap tickets, stops in under-served areas, an absence of long lines and delays commonly experienced at airports, and the ability to participate in leisure activities that cannot be done while driving a car. Consequently, the bus industry has, since 2006, seen a significant rise in the number of scheduled bus departures and riders.

The industry continues to grow, adding features like on-board WiFi to enable commuters to work while in transit. Likewise, buses are developing a cachet of “cool” from college students and young urbanites interested in regenerating an old-fashioned mode of transportation, especially one that fits their often limited budgets.

Increasing Safety Concerns
With any rapid expansion of an industry come growing pains. Oversight of this developing industry continues to be a challenge. More and more operators are appearing that are not meeting federal standards for safety.

In fact, following a series of fatal crashes, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) engaged in a crackdown on several of these carriers in the spring of 2012, suspending their operations.

Officials cited critical issues like lack of equipment maintenance, improper validation of driver qualifications, and not adhering to rules around how long a driver can be behind the wheel. Though these operators were prohibited from carrying future passengers, the government is nevertheless concerned about them simply opening under a new name.

Ensuring that these curbside carriers (distinguished from traditional carriers that operate out of easily monitored bus stations) meet federal standards for safety is of paramount concern, not just for their passengers, but also for anyone who shares the road with them.

In densely populated areas of the United States like the Northeast, where these carriers are the most prevalent, it becomes an even larger risk. The FMCSA has promised to not only seek additional funding for more enforcement, but to also increase the fine for each violation.

Bus Companies Need to Prepare
More federal oversight means that motor carriers will need to ensure that their hiring practices are effective and compliant. Properly screening potential drivers with background checks, driving histories, and drug tests according to federal regulation is a simple and effective step these companies can take to proactively prepare for the next wave of enforcement.

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