Study Finds Problems with Curbside Carriers

The fatal accident rate for curbside carriers from January 2005 to March 2011 was seven times higher than for conventional bus operations: 1.4 fatal accidents per 100 vehicles for curbside carriers compared with 0.2 fatal accidents per 100 vehicles for conventional scheduled carriers.

A National Transportation Safety Board study initiated after the multi-fatality crash of a bus in the Bronx last March has found that curbside carriers have a far higher fatality rate than standard bus operators. NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman announced the results Oct. 31 with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, who requested it after the March 12 crash killed 15 people and injured 18 others.

"Business and safety practices within the growing curbside bus industry create challenges for enforcement authorities and consumers alike when it comes to separating the safe operators from the unsafe operators," Hersman said. "It's abundantly clear that the oversight of this industry has not kept pace with its growth and the consequences have been deadly," Schumer added. "The NTSB report is a wake-up call that we need a more rigorous regulatory regime, and it provides a blueprint for how to fill the gaps. I want to thank Chairman Hersman for so quickly and efficiently responding to our goal, and I look forward to working with her as we now begin the process of working to overhaul how this industry is regulated and monitored."

The report is the first comprehensive evaluation of this part of the motorcoach industry. Curbside motorcoach operations are scheduled trips that begin or end at locations other than traditional bus terminals; passengers typically are picked up and dropped off at one or more curbside locations.

NTSB said among the 4,172 active interstate motorcoach carriers operating in the United States, 71 were identified as scheduled motorcoach carriers providing curbside service. The study's findings included:

  • Curbside carriers with 10 or fewer buses and carriers that have been in business for 10 years or less have higher accident rates and higher roadside inspection violation rates.
  • The fatal accident rate for curbside carriers from January 2005 to March 2011 was seven times higher than for conventional bus operations: 1.4 fatal accidents per 100 vehicles for curbside carriers compared with 0.2 fatal accidents per 100 vehicles for conventional scheduled carriers.
  • Excluding buses from routine en-route inspections -- especially curbside carriers that do not operate from terminals -- reduces opportunities to discover safety violations.
  • FMCSA and state personnel are responsible for compliance reviews for more than 765,000 U.S. motor carriers, a ratio of 1.15 investigators per 1,000 motor carriers.
  • Bus driver fatigue, a contributing factor in many accidents, is a continuing safety concern.
  • There is a lack of transparency in ticket sales. More than conventional carriers, curbside operators use online bus brokers, and FMCSA has no authority to regulate these brokers.

"Motorcoach safety is on the NTSB's Most Wanted List because of the potential for high-consequence accidents like we saw in the Bronx," said Hersman. "It's time to recognize that traditional transportation services have morphed into new business models that challenge existing regulatory constructs."

Five recent curbside bus crashes have caused 22 deaths and 159 injuries, according to the agency.

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