Feds crack down on bus companies with overworked drivers
Posted September 29, 2011 6:09 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Passengers on a discount bus line were stranded for about six hours in Raleigh on Thursday after the carrier was swept up in a national effort to improve bus safety.
The 14 passengers were on their way from New York to South Carolina on I-95 Coach, a discount tour bus operating out of the Chinatown section of Manhattan.
They had been on the bus since 10 p.m. Wednesday and picked up what they thought was a fresh driver at 7 a.m. An inspector with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration stopped the bus 45 minutes later, however, determining that the driver had not had the required eight hours rest before getting behind the wheel.
Eddie Weng, who works for I-95 Coach, said the driver the who took over Thursday's trip had had plenty of sleep.
"We do everything right," Weng said. "They make a hard time (for us)."
Officials with the Motor Carrier Safety Administration couldn't be reached for comment, but the state Highway Patrol said I-95 Coach was fined $200 for violating the eight-hour rest rule.
Passengers had to wait until about 2 p.m. until the company could find another driver to finish the trip.
"We’re on a vacation, so it’s pretty cool for us," said David Collins, who was on his way to Myrtle Beach, S.C., with his family. "But you’ve got other people whose circumstances are a little bit more extreme than ours. They need to get to where they needed to be a long time ago, and we’re still here."
The federal agency is in the middle of a two-week inspection sweep, called Passenger Carrier Strike Force, following a string of bus crashes in recent months, some of which involved discount bus lines out of Chinatown.
A March bus crash in New York killed 15 people, and police said driver fatigue was a factor. In May, a Sky Express bus on its way from Greensboro to New York crashed on Interstate 95 in Virginia, killing four people and injuring 50. Authorities say the driver fell asleep at the wheel.
Both bus drivers now face criminal charges.
I-95 Coach attorney Ira Braswell said his company's buses have been stopped several times this week already.
"Why it’s happening, I can’t tell you," Braswell said. "The generic version – the politically correct version – is it’s part of a safety initiative. The cynical part of me says there’s something else going on."