Feds permanently park 52 unsafe bus companies
The federal government has come down hard on bus and motor coach operators that it says were operating outside the bounds of safety. NBC's Tom Costello reports
By M. Alex Johnson and Tom Costello, NBC News
More than 50 of "the worst of the worst" interstate bus companies have been shut down for blatant safety violations, from keeping drivers on the road too long to cruising along with bad tires and brakes and even tolerating holes in the floor, federal regulators said Thursday.
The order means 340 buses operated by 52 companies are now banned from the nation's roadways — and more could permanently parked in the coming months, the government said.
Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which closed the bus companies, says bus travel is still a safe option as the holiday season approaches.
"We want to get the worst of the worst off the road and make sure that the other companies recognize that we are serious when we say we have no tolerance for unsafe operations," said Anne Ferro, administrator of the Transportation Department's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The agency took the tough action after an eight-month investigation — dubbed Operation Quick Strike — of the 250 bus companies with the worst safety records in the nation.
Twenty of the 52 companies were shuttered immediately in April, and the rest were closed later after they failed to fix problems to the agency's satisfaction.
The closed carriers "put profits before passenger safety," Ferro told NBC News, showing "blatant disregard for basic safety principles."
Twenty-eight companies were allowed to remain open after they took corrective action, the agency said. And yet another 30 sidestepped the investigation by shutting down their interstate routes — the motor carrier agency doesn't regulate in-state coaches.
The agency found widespread violations among the 52 companies, including:
Running buses with unsafe tires.
Driving routes with bad brakes.
Operating buses with holes in the floor.
Pushing drivers past not only legal limits but even their own physical limits.
Failing to adequately test drivers for drugs and alcohol.
"Clearly, the industry is a very safe industry, but there is a disproportionate small number of companies that have caused a lot of injuries and a lot of deaths," said Dan Ronan, a spokesman for the American Bus Association, which said it welcomed the federal action.
Bus coaches carry about 700 million passengers every year — almost as many who fly. The best operators often have seat belts — which will be required across the board by 2016 — strict safety protocols and cameras that monitor their drivers.
"We have a 24-hour dispatch," said Bill Torres, president of D.C. Trails, an interstate coach company in the nation's capital — which was not one of the 52 shut down. "They watch. We watch it. I can watch it from my iPhone. I can watch it from my computer at home."
Torres is an former D.C. cop, so "my background is protecting the public," he told NBC News. As a result, he said, "we continue to research and make sure we have some of the safest coaches on the road."
In addition, D.C. Trails' drivers are banned from using phones, even with earpieces, and the company is ahead of schedule on meeting the 2016 all-seatbelt mandate, he said.
"My thought it is it's better to be proactive than reactive, so we are constantly looking at ways to be safe and stay safe," he said.