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Richmond, Virginia

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Michael Phelan
Michael Phelan
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Regulating the Renegade Bus Companies

2 comments

According to Michael Paul Williams of the Richmond Times- Dispatch, renegade bus lines prove the need for government regulation. Check out his video blog citing the recent Virginia bus crash involving Sky Express as an example of the need for regulation.

Interestingly, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran an editorial on Wednesday concerning the bus crash entitled, "Regulation and safety." The editorial is re-printed below:

The bus crash that took four lives in Caroline County last month was a horrendous tragedy that has renewed interest in improving passenger-bus safety. The regulators and lawmakers striving to do so need to go about the process deliberately, however. Otherwise they risk the danger of making the situation worse.

Reports indicate that the failure of regulation was at least as much to blame for the catastrophe as a lack of it. For instance, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration allowed Sky Express Inc. to continue operating after an unsatisfactory safety rating should have shut it down. Tougher enforcement of existing rules might have prevented the crash.

New rules — requiring seatbelt installation and tightening drivers’ hours so they are at least as stringent as the rules governing freight-truck drivers — could improve bus safety and probably merit approval. But lawmakers and regulators need to remember that all rules impose operating costs, which will be passed on to passengers. Low-cost bus service has proven to be immensely popular. Mandating a spate of new requirements that raise the price of a ticket too far could convince some travelers to drive themselves.

The result of such a shift would be more carnage, not less. Bus crashes, like plane crashes, draw a lot of attention. But despite the Sky Express debacle, the motor-coach industry comes in second only to the airline industry for passenger safety. Traveling by car is more dangerous by an order of magnitude than riding a bus. Car crashes kill far more people but receive far less coverage. Ten people died in vehicle crashes in Virginia on Memorial Day alone. Nationwide, an average of 87 people die in car crashes every day — more than 1,300 since the Sky Express crash May 31.

Improving bus safety is a worthy goal. But it is not an end in itself. It is merely a means to a greater end: improving highway safety overall. Lawmakers and regulators should not let the Sky Express tragedy narrow their focus so much that they lose sight of the bigger picture.

There is no doubt where Mr. Williams stands on this issue. The same cannot be said about the editorial staff at his newspaper. Do they advocate for the passage of new regulations which the state police support or are they arguing against regulation? One cannot tell because the editorial is rather vague. I thought editorial writers were supposed to have strong opinions. This piece concedes that new regulations requiring seat belts in buses and limiting drivers’ hours just as we do with respect to commercial trucks "probably merit approval," but goes on to defend the motor coach industry and list reasons why regulating fly-by-night companies like Sky Express, Inc. is a bad idea. Pick a position!

2 Comments

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  1. Vid says:
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    The “real” message gets lost in what was said. Forget about someones opinion on “seat belts” or on the statistics on “bus crashes”. While I did not disagree with some of the thoughts. I believe the real message should be, we have to get the unsafe carriers, bus and truck, to either comply with the F.M.C. Safety Regulations or they need to be shut down.

    There is a hidden message in this as well. Unsafe carriers are a hazard to the public by themselves. However, what the public doesn’t realize is unsafe carriers can cause other carriers to become unsafe. How?

    Unsafe carriers are not in compliance with Federal or State laws. They do not spend the money to fix their equipment or educate their employees in regards to the FMCSR’s and they allow and permit their employees to perform unsafe acts. Therefore these “unsafe carriers” operating costs are lower and then they pass these “cheap rates” on to the customer.

    Now I am all about “healthy competition” but carriers without a “safety conscience” will try and compete with the “unsafe carriers”. However to do this they must lower their rates. When this happens you will find they will bend the rules or quit fixing their equipment and thus they become the “unsafe carrier”. An example where the student becomes the teacher and on and on it goes….

    This is a vicious cycle this process grows more unsafe carriers every day!

    Solution: The solution to this problem is two fold. #1)The F.M.C. Safety Administrion needs to enforce the regualtions that are on the books today. Use the current BASIC Scores that are available and come in and perform enforcement on the bad carriers. Get bad carriers to comply with regulation or get them off the road #2) Make sure all carriers go through a compliance review every two years and focus in on carriers that have never had a compliance review first!!!

    Do we want this problem fixed??? If we do, all we need to do is enforce the current F.M.C.S. Regualtions. I know this leads to questions like: do we need more enforcemnt officers? (or) do we need to train local enforcement (police) to help with this process? Someone else will need to answer these questions.

    There will “always” be unsafe carriers if we allow or permit them to operate. All the seat belts in the world will not stop a bus from rolling over. Yes seat belts help mitigate risk of injury but… if the bus company would have been shut down, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  2. mike phelan says:
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    Excellent points, Vid.