Safety of curbside tour buses called into question

Curbside buses have become an inexpensive way to get around and are becoming especially common in metro areas, including Boston. Unlike traditional bus services that pick up riders at bus terminals, curbside tour bus carriers pick up passengers at street corners, parking lots and other public places.

However, you may want to think twice before stepping onto one of these cheap and convenient curbside buses as the National Transportation Safety Board recently reported that they are seven times more likely to be involved in a fatal tour bus accident than traditional interstate buses operating out of bus terminals.

The study was conducted after several tour bus crashes occurred in the northeast over the past year. According to the NTSB, out of the 4,172 active interstate tour bus carriers, 71 provide curbside service. From January 2005 to March 2011, the fatal accident rate for those curbside carriers was seven times that of conventional carriers.

An organization called Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety said that there have been 23 interstate bus accidents this year nationally that have resulted in 33 deaths and 452 injuries. This has been higher than years past and many are speculating that it has a lot to do with the increase in inexpensive curbside bus companies.

Here are some of the biggest problems that the NTSB’s report said exist within the curbside tour bus industry:

  • Compared to traditional interstate bus drivers, curbside bus drivers have more fitness violations and are more frequently out-of-service for violations on average. Additionally, they see more driver logbook violations.
  • After evaluating driver fitness violations from April 2009 to March 2011, the NTSB concluded that with curbside carriers, 11 percent of the driver fitness violations were because of English language problems.
  • All too often, curbside carriers are shut down for safety violations and then “reincarnate” as new companies by merely changing the ownership’s name and painting over the bus logo and DOT ID number.

Another problem appears to be that the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is in charge of regulating the interstate bus industry, simply does not have enough man power to do its job. The NTSB’s report showed that there are 878 workers responsible for reviewing more than 765,000 motor carriers.

After considering all of this, it’s no wonder that so many accidents have resulted. Hopefully something is done to better regulate the industry before more innocent lives are lost.

Source: Boston Magazine, “Cheap Buses Are Deadly,” Janelle Nanos, Nov. 1, 2011.