NEW YORK – City officials are vowing to crack down on what they call the “exploitive” and under-regulated charter bus industry after a deadly crash in Queens last month.
Even before inspectors started the long work of sorting out details of the crash between a charter bus and a city transit bus, politicians were flooding the media with calls for stricter regulations on the industry.
“From what I can see, it’s an exploitative industry that needs to be reined in,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “I fear what’s going on here is an industry that is really unfair to its workers and exploitative and forces workers to work unusually long hours without additional benefits.”
City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chairman of the city council’s Transportation Committee, also chimed in, saying he would draft legislation requiring that city-based charter bus companies make driver records publicly available.
“We need to be sure that those charter companies, before they get a permit or renew their permit, they are to have a guarantee that all the drivers . . . have a clear record before they are driving in the city of New York,” Rodriguez said.
Even labor unions weighed in.
“These buses are sweatshops on wheels,” said Larry Hanley, the international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, a labor organization representing bus drivers. “There is rampant fatigue in the industry caused by low wages … it’s a third world form of transit that exists in the United States.”
Surveillance video from a nearby business appears to show a Dahlia bus running a red light and plowing into a transit bus. The bus apparently was speeding.
Three people died in the crash, including the charter bus driver, a passenger on the transit bus and a pedestrian.
The politicians and labor official commenting on the crash focused on the fact that the driver of the empty charter bus, Raymond Mong, had previously worked as a New York City transit bus driver but was fired in 2015 after an arrest in Connecticut for driving under the influence.
Mong apparently held a valid commercial driver’s license, but critics contend that he should not have been legally allowed to drive a bus.
They also pointed out that the owner of the charter bus, Dahlia, has a poor safety record. The company has received seven unsafe driving violations from FMCSA since Sept. 5, 2015, two for drivers traveling more than 15 miles above the posted speed limit. However, the company’s last compliance review apparently revealed no violations that would result in fines.
Motorcoach industry officials, while conceding that the crash was tragic and offering sympathies to the families of the deceased, said New York officials should have waited for the completion of the investigation before running to the media to criticize the charter bus industry.
“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals that sustained injuries and the families that lost loved ones,” said Ken Presley, vice president of industry relations and COO of the United Motorcoach Association.
“While motorcoach crashes that result in a loss of life are very rare, no doubt every company and safety official in the country shudders when these happen as they know it could happen to them.
“While it is tempting to speculate and all too often overreact to these incidents, true safety professionals all know that we must be patient while the experts investigate the accident and determine the probable cause and contributing factors. Of course, there will be detractors chiming in, exploiting the tragedy in an effort to advance their disparate causes.”