By Mark Hallum
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an initiative on the part of DOT, DMV and the state police that has cracked down on charter buses, taking many unsafe vehicles and under-qualified operators off the road since September.
The push to better examine the safety of charter buses came after a Dahlia Travel & Tours bus, based in Flushing, plowed into an MTA bus Sept. 18, killing three and injuring 16 on Northern Boulevard and Main Street.
Cuomo said the state campaign has removed 112 unsafe buses and 96 drivers in poor standing from New York thoroughfares.
“This enforcement effort will help take these illegal and unsafe buses off New York roads, protecting the health and safety of passengers and motorists alike,” Cuomo said. “With this multi-agency operation, we are cracking down on these bad actors and seeking to give travelers peace of mind as they book their trips this holiday season.”
The operator of the rogue Dahlia bus, Raymond Mong, 49, had a dicey history behind the wheel. In 2015, he had been fired from the MTA as a bus driver following a Connecticut accident for which he was found guilty of DWI.
At the time of the crash a spokesman from the state Department of Motor Vehicles said the agency was not aware Mong was still operating a bus and Dahlia had not reported that information to them as required by law.
But this week a government source said Dahlia was still operating until the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the Flushing collision, shuts them down.
DOT Acting Commissioner Paul A. Karas said, “These targeted inspections ordered by Governor Cuomo are enhancing safety on New York’s roads and getting dangerous drivers off the street so residents, visitors and tourists can travel with ease during the upcoming holiday season. New York already has one of the most rigorous and aggressive commercial vehicle inspection programs in the nation and additional roadside inspections help build upon our previous successes.”
But elected officials at the state and federal levels are trying to make company safety more transparent to customers through a rating system readily apparent on buses. State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and U.S. Charles Schumer are looking at legislative options to remedy charter buses with repeated violations.
DMV Executive Deputy Commissioner Terri Egan said the agency is working to not only get unqualified drivers off the road, but it is engaged with law enforcement to keep them from getting behind the wheel in the future.
“By coordinating with our partner agencies, DMV has worked to identify dangerous drivers and make sure they do not get another license to keep driving when they are not legally allowed,” Egan said. “We will continue to work with state and local law enforcement organizations to enforce our traffic laws.”
NTBS investigator-in-charge Robert Accetta said the agency sent investigators to Flushing to examine possible factors behind the crash, such as driver fatigue. Two investigators visited the Dahlia Group, the Flushing company which owns the tour bus, to check driver logs, bus maintenance records and other data.
The NTSB official said the agency concluded the bus was traveling between 54 and 62 miles an hour after making an estimate of an average 58 mph with a 4 mph margin of error on each side.
Mong was a resident of College Point.
Dahlia was ranked seventh worse in an Independent Democratic Conference study which looked at 249 companies statewide with violations.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall