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FMCSA's bus safety data can be as confusing as it is helpful

Of grave concern now, however, is how the FCMSA continues to encourage the public to use information on the agency’s website to determine the fitness of a carrier. There's even a smartphone app that will take you to the site. (The Trucker file photo)

By LYNDON FINNEY
The Trucker Staff

4/26/2013

A NEWS ANALYSIS

WASHINGTON — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Friday shut down another bus company in its avowed campaign to rid the nation’s highways of unsafe buses.

Reporting that another bus company has been shuttered has become routine the past few months and especially in the past few weeks as the FMCSA’s “Operation Quick Strike” shut down Georgia-based Chan-Yen Lin dba Best Limo Service.

Best Limo Service was the second shutdown of a passenger carrier following the deployment earlier this month of more than 50 specially trained safety investigators targeting high-risk passenger carriers.

The first was Washington DC Party Shuttle, which was closed down Tuesday.

Best Limo Service and Washington DC Party Shuttle join a growing list of motorcoach companies sent to the sideline since the FMCSA began a crackdown on unsafe carriers in the wake of several fatal and well-publicized accidents.

The “quick strike” investigators have been trained to utilize enhanced investigative techniques particular to the motorcoach industry and identify potentially risky carriers using everything from Safety Management System scores to knowledge of key areas of operations at motorcoach companies deemed to be high risk carriers (operating schedules, equipment storage and driver qualifications, pick-up and drop-off locations) to public input.

The first carrier shut down by the strike was Washington DC Party Shuttle, which does business as Onboard DC Tours in the Washington area and in New York.

Best Limo Service certainly needed to be put out of business, which we will address later.

Of grave concern now, however, is how the FCMSA continues to encourage the public to use information on the agency’s website to determine the fitness of a carrier.

But that information, or lack thereof, could often be considered vague and perhaps misleading.

For instance, if a prospective passenger had tried to check out the following carriers, they would have learned:

• Best Limo Service prior to the carrier being shutdown (a fact that is now highly visible on the website), has had no vehicle or driver inspections, has no CSA scores because of the lack of inspections and does not have a safety rating because it has never been the subject of a compliance review nor has it been involved in any accidents.

• Ming An Inc., a carrier put out of service recently, had CSA scores above the intervention threshold in all five BASIC categories, a clear sign of poor performance.

• Washington DC Party Shuttle had a Vehicle Maintenance score of 76.9, which is above the intervention threshold.

• Jefferson Lines, a reputable scheduled carrier in the Midwest had a satisfactory safety rating, but has had a serious violation in the Driver Fitness category with the past 12 months as the result of an investigation and has been involved in four accidents in the past 24 months. Three were towaway accidents, one involved injury. The carrier has been the subject of three compliance reviews and two onsite comprehensive investigations.

• Greyhound Lines, the country’s foremost schedule carrier, has an Unsafe Driving score above the intervention threshold, has a satisfactory safety rating, has been the subject of two compliance reviews and has been involved in 109 crashes the past two years, including three fatal crashes, 58 injury crashes and 48 towaway crashes.

• Megabus, a scheduled low fare carrier, has an Hours of Service Compliance above the intervention threshold, has a satisfactory safety rating and has been involved in five crashes in the past two years, one of those a towaway crash.

By the way, the FMCSA on its own website says a company’s safety rating (awarded by FMCSA) does not necessarily reflect the safety of the carrier when operating in interstate commerce.

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As you can see by the information above, trying to discern whether a carrier is safe to board could be confusing and misleading.

Sure, Jefferson Lines and Greyhound travel thousands of miles more than Best Limo Service, but if I’m choosing based on accidents, I might choose Best Limo Service.

If I’m choosing based on CSA scores, I might choose Best Limo Service.

The only carrier with a 100 percent red flag in the list above would have been Ming An.

So how does someone make sure they stay off an unsafe carrier?

It might be to just rule out the worst and choose one of the rest and hope.

Oh, yes, about Best Limo Service.

The FMCSA said Best Limo Service failed to monitor and ensure that its drivers comply with drivers' qualification requirements, drivers' controlled substances and alcohol use and testing requirements, drivers' HOS requirements, and drivers' records-of-duty status requirements, and that the carrier failed to ensure that it’s commercial motor

vehicles are properly and regularly inspected, repaired and maintained.

The FMCSA said its strike team uncovered “egregious” regulatory violations.

Best Limo Service advised FMCSA safety investigators that during the past year it employed six drivers, but upon review of carrier documents, the FMCSA safety investigators discovered that Best Limo Service actually employed a total of 13 drivers. Further, Best Limo Service had a driver qualification file for only one driver and did not maintain driver qualification files on its other 12 drivers.

Best Limo Service was using a driver to transport passengers in its commercial motor vehicles who had previously tested positive for controlled substances while employed with another carrier. Best Limo Service has also been using a driver with a suspended CDL to operate its passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicles.

If you want to read more about Best Limo Service’s violations, click here.

So where are we headed with all this?

We’re sure the FMCSA will continue to encourage passengers to visit its website to determine whether a carrier is safe or not.

No doubt it will rule out the worst, but it’s still a crap shoot which to choose among the best of the rest.

Our advice?

Use common sense.

If the fare is incredibly low, if the bus has a lot of dings and dents, the driver has bags under his eyes instead of under his arms, if you have to meet the bus in the middle of the night at some obscure gas station in a bad part of town, don’t go.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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