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Feds to investigate tour buses after incidents

A Big Boy Coach bus crashed in New Hampshire on its way to Boston from Quebec March 21. Big Boy Coach operates out of Flushing, where recent efforts by city officials may have an impact on the discount tour-bus industry. AP Photo/Caledonian Record, Paul Hayes
By Rich Bockmann

Just weeks after a fatal bus crash in the Bronx and a deadly accident in New Hampshire involving a Flushing tour company, the National Transportation Safety Board has agreed to conduct an investigation into the practices and regulations governing the low-cost tour bus industry.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Ridgewood) announced last week that at their urging the NTSB will investigate the effectiveness of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency responsible for enforcing safety regulations on commercial vehicles. The NTSB expects the review to be completed in six months.

“A broad-based investigation into the discount tour bus industry will send a wake-up call that the status quo is simply not acceptable,” said Schumer. “A full and comprehensive review of this industry and the safety regulations governing it will no doubt lead to greater safety standards for the thousands of passengers who use these buses every week.”

Last month Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered an investigation into the March 13 crash of a bus on I-95 in the Bronx that killed at least 15 people returning to the city from a trip to a Connecticut casino.

Many tour bus companies operate across state lines, such as the Big Boy Coach bus that crashed March 21 in New Hampshire en route to Quebec from Boston. The company is based in Flushing, where many discount tour buses park along 40th Road to pick up and discharge passengers.

“We have about 74 buses a day leaving from downtown Flushing to casinos in states from Delaware to Connecticut,” said James McClelland, chief of staff to City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing).

The city Department of Transportation regulations governing standing commercial vehicles allows them to expeditiously make pickups and deliveries, and McClelland said it is the ambiguity of this wording that allows the buses to jam the road with traffic.

Along with the safety hazards they pose, traffic and unruly casino patrons and their trash are some of the major problems the buses present in the area.

McClelland said that following a meeting Friday with the 109th Precinct, the DOT conducted an inspection of the buses on 40th Road early Monday morning. As a result, 54 fines were handed out for violations ranging from no seatbelts to insufficient cleanliness, and two vehicles were towed for breaks that were almost inoperable.

“Most of the problems come from out of state. So the question is, can we regulate interstate commerce,” said McClelland. “There’s a gray area here for a local municipality. This may be more of a federal issue.”

McClelland said Koo is working with the DOT to make 40th Road a no-standing zone and to find an alternate location for the buses.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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