Schumer bill on discount bus safety passes Senate

Kin Yiu Cheung, left, and his lawyer Murray Janus arrive at Caroline County court in Bowling Green, Va., for Cheung’s arraignment Friday, June 3, 2011. The 37-year-old bus driver from Flushing, N.Y., is charged with reckless driving in the May 31 crash on Interstate 95 that killed four women from New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey. (AP Photo/Michael Felberbaum)
Michael Felberbaum
By Philip Newman

The U.S. Senate has passed legislation introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) requiring discount bus lines to inform passengers of their safety record.

The bill also institutes a variety of requirements to improve safety on board such buses.

The proposed legislation came after several fatal accidents involving the discount tour bus industry, including a March 12, 2011, smashup in the Bronx that killed 15 people and injured 18.

The driver, Ophadell Williams, 40, of Brooklyn, was indicted on a variety of charges. Federal investigators said it appeared he was driving 78 mph on I-95 in a 55 mph zone.

Schumer’s proposed legislation would require the Federal Motor Carriage Safety Administration to establish clear and understandable safety ratings to be posted on buses and at terminals and require ticket sellers and bus companies to make their safety record and history easily accessible at point of sale.

Schumer has urged the FMCSA to establish a safety rating plan and letter-grade system similar to that used to rate New York City restaurants.

“The Senate gets an A for passing this crucial bill that will finally alert passengers about bus company safety records before they buy a ticket, and I urge the House to make the grade and pass the legislation immediately,” Schumer said.

In May 2011, a Flushing driver was at the wheel when a Sky Express Bus overturned on I-95 in Caroline County, Va., killing two passengers, including two from Queens. A year ago in March a bus owned by Flushing-based Big Boy Coach crashed in New Hampshire, causing injuries.

The bill would require electronic, on-board recorders which would monitor drivers to make sure they are not violating the hours of service rule intended to keep fatigued drivers off the road.

The bill would also require better commercial driver training and establishment of a national commercial Motor Vehicle Medical Registry to ensure that only medically qualified drivers are operating buses.

The bill would require that motor coaches have safety belts; anti-ejection glazing on windows to prevent passengers from being easily thrown out of the bus; strong, crush-resistant roofs that can withstand roll-overs; improved protection against fires; and improved training for operators in case of fire.

The bill would allow federal regulators for the first time to stop buses en route for inspection and gives inspectors more authority to crack down on unsafe carriers, sometimes known as “reincarnated carriers” — meaning buses which are ordered out of service one day and returned under a new name the next.

“Late last year an Albany bus company called Double Happiness was still serving passengers who were unaware of the company’s dismal safety record and flagrant violations,” Schumer said.

“Despite the poor safety records of some bad actors in the discount tour bus industry, it is very difficult for passengers to get an accurate picture of the safety records of these companies. Though the FMCSA currently has a ranking system on its website, the database is difficult to navigate and their rating system is not easy to understand,” Schumer said.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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