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Government Shuts Down 26 Bus Companies For Safety Violations

Transportation officials used the one year anniversary of a deadly bus crash to announce the shut down of 26 bus companies, including three in North Carolina. It was one year ago that a bus run by a Charlotte-based company overturned near Richmond, Virginia, killing four people. The companies carried over 1,800 passengers a day along Interstate I-95 between New York and Florida. Most of their routes began or terminated in New York's Chinatown. Ticket prices were cheap, generally in the $20-$40 range. "These companies showed flagrant disregard for the public's safety," says Federal Motorcoach Safety Administrator Anne Ferro. In May, the agency worked with states to conduct a couple thousand safety inspections. That led to the removal of 116 drivers and 169 buses from the road and the shutdown of the companies. "They used drivers without valid commercial drivers licenses, drivers without proof of medical qualification, drivers who had not been properly drug and alcohol tested, and drivers who clearly exceeded the maximum number of hours they could drive. They also used buses that were mechanically unsafe and in disrepair," says Ferro. Those buses had problems with brakes, tires and lights. The list is similar to the list of violations by Charlotte-based Sky Express. That company operated the bus that overturned near Richmond. The Federal Motorcoach Safety Administration shut the company down, but within a month the owners of Sky Express opened another bus company under a different name. A lot of troubled bus companies do this. The agency even has a name for it, "reincarnating." Ferro says that problem is being addressed. "We now have a rule in place that allows us to legally connect the dots of the affiliation with the company that we shut down before for safety violations and shut down any other entity that's associated with it," says Ferro. Half of the companies the agency shut down this week were re-incarnated operators. The three North Carolina companies that were shut down were based in Rocky Mount and Greensboro under the names of United Tours, Coach 88 and Go To Travel. None of the companies received any penalties. If they continue to operate, they'll be fined $2,200 a day. Ferro acknowledges that many companies are just paying that fine and see it as a cost of doing business. Congress is considering legislation that would move that fine up to $25,000 a day and give the agency more leeway to conduct surprise inspections.