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Dodging the rules

It’s up to the National Transportation Safety Board to determine the cause of Monday’s heart-breaking bus collision that left three people dead and injured 16 in the early morning hours in Flushing.

But a surveillance video of the crash provided an early clue: The 40-year-old driver of the empty Flushing charter bus that rammed an MTA 20 bus was flying up Northern Boulevard at what NTSB investigators estimated was about 58 mph. With Flushing’s notorious traffic at a low ebb around 6:20 a.m., the bus appeared to blast through a red light in what is a 30 mph zone.

There is plenty of blame to go around.

Raymond Mong, the driver of the Dhalia Group bus, was killed in the crash. Outrage is growing over why he was allowed behind the wheel. He had lost his job as an MTA bus driver in 2015 when he was convicted of DWI in Connecticut, where his car crashed into two other vehicles on I-95.

Robert Accetta, the lead investigator for the NTSB, told a news conference in Flushing that Mong was properly licensed to drive the charter bus. However, the state Dept. of Motor Vehicles said Dahlia never notified the agency that he was a driver for the company — a violation of state law.

The charter company drove straight through the regulatory loopholes, which need to be closed.

Dahlia’s track record is littered with seven traffic violations and at least one deadly accident prior to September 2015, based on a report by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. In 2016, a Dahlia bus carrying passengers from Flushing to a casino in Connecticut skidded off the road in a snowstorm, injuring 36 passengers.

Flushing Councilman Peter Koo, who has repeatedly warned about unsafe conditions on the downtown’s crowded streets, said the charter bus industry must be better regulated.

He estimated about 20 charter companies operate in his district, competing with city buses and trucks in the gridlocked urban center.

Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the Transportation Committee, said he would draft legislation requiring charter bus companies to prove that their drivers had a clean record in order to renew permits to operate in the city. But the federal government is the ultimate overseer of the nation’s charter bus industry and must revoke the licenses of companies that have piled up multiple infractions.

Three people died at the gateway to downtown Flushing in an accident that could have been prevented. The NTSB will find the cause of the collision, but will the state and city agencies figure out where Mong and Dhalia fell through the cracks?

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