Officials with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) closed down 26 unsafe bus operations in several states, deeming the carriers as "imminent hazards to public safety." Wednesday's shutdown orders mark the largest government crackdown on the bus industry in a decade. Safety investigators found that all the shutdown carriers violated many different safety regulations, including hiring unqualified drivers with no commercial licenses, failing to administer drug and alcohol tests on drivers, failing to enforce rest requirements on drivers, and operating buses that were not routinely inspected or repaired.
Investigators focused on three primary companies: Apex Bus Inc., I-95 Coach Inc. and Century Travel Inc. which oversaw a wide network of affiliate bus companies. These companies were responsible for transporting over 1,800 passengers per day along Interstate 95 between New York and Florida, authorities said. Most of the bus routes either began or ended in New York City's Chinatown.
The crackdown on these unsafe bus companies started over a year ago after a series of fatal crashes. In March last year, a tour bus on its way back to Chinatown from an overnight trip to a Connecticut casino crashed, killing 15 passengers and injuring many others onboard. Documents revealed that the driver, Ophadell Williams, had his driving privileges suspended 18 times in 20 years prior to the wreck. Investigators also say that Williams was speeding at the time of the fatal crash. He was charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. The carrier that hired Williams, World Wide Travel, has since been shut down.
Two months after the World Wide Travel crash, a Sky Express Inc. bus on its way to Chinatown from North Carolina hit an embankment and flipped over, killing four passengers and injuring 50. The driver in that crash admitted to law enforcement that he had fallen asleep while driving. Sky Express, which was cited for driver fatigue violations nearly 50 times in two years prior to the wreck, was shut down immediately after the accident only to resume operations under a new business name. This prompted another shut down by FMCSA.
Many safety advocates applaud the steps taken by the FMCSA to stop unsafe bus carriers from operating. According to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, there were 24 bus crashes last year in the U.S., which resulted in 34 deaths and nearly 500 injuries. In order to reduce this statistic, the FMCSA could benefit from a larger workforce. A National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB) report issued last year stated that the FMCSA has 878 federal and state inspectors in charge of overseeing 765,000 bus companies.