By Gina Martinez
Following the deadly Flushing bus crash last month, state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) and state Sen Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) announced a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would set new requirements for private bus operators and their drivers.
Kim and Stavisky were joined by Young Lim, wife of crash victim SangKi Kang, who recalled the terrifying phone call she got from her husband the morning of the collision telling her he was injured.
On Sept. 18 a private Dahlia bus slammed into a Q20 bus and Kennedy Fried Chicken at 136-04 Northern Blvd early in the morning. The driver was going about 58 mph in a 30 mph zone, the National Transportation Safety Board said. Three people died, including a pedestrian discovered under one of the buses, a passenger aboard the Q20 and the driver of the charter bus. Over a dozen people were injured as well.
According to Lim, Kang had just gotten his morning coffee from Kennedy Fried Chicken and stepped into his car with his co-worker. A few seconds later one of the buses involved in the accident crashed into the restaurant and hit his car. Lim recalled rushing to the scene and seeing the injured people on the street while searching for Kang, who is currently in physical therapy recovering. He was not able to attend the press conference due to work.
The driver of the Dahlia bus, 49-year-old Raymond Mong, had been fired from the MTA in 2015 for DWI.
Kim and Stavisky highlighted the need for greater oversight and accountability after pointing out the questionable record of the Dhalia Bus Company and other local private bus companies operating in Flushing. According to a study prepared by the Independent Democratic Conference released earlier this month of the most dangerous private bus companies operating in New York state. Dahlia Group, the Flushing company involved in the fatal Queens crash, was the seventh worst on the top 10 list.
The elected officials emphasized the importance of increasing rider safety by strengthening licensing and security protocols, and ensuring that potential passengers have greater access to crucial information. Kim said their proposed bill would make amendments to Article 19A of the state Vehicle and Traffic Law that set requirements for private bus operators and their drivers.
The lawmakers said the amendments would include requiring the state Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a new credential for drivers to drive a bus and require the display of the credential inside of a bus while the bus driver is on duty. It would also requiring the DMV to perform an annual audit of motor carriers at least once a year instead of every three years, to ensure that motor carriers are following the law.
Kim said that with proper oversight the fatal Flushing accident could have been avoided.
“We need to empower riders with the information they need to make informed decisions,” he said. “With these newly issued credentials, riders can be sure that their driver is properly certified, just as they would in a taxi. Private bus companies shuttle thousands of New Yorkers from city to city every year. We need to make sure that when riders step onto a bus, they aren’t putting their lives in peril.”
Stavisky said that with this legislation riders and pedestrians would be assured that each driver had the proper credentials so that accidents like the one on Northern Boulevard could be prevented.
“Riders should be confident that their bus driver is qualified and can safely operate a bus,” she said. “We will no longer tolerate private bus companies hiring unqualified drivers and we must continue to hold them accountable.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart