Federal bus safety regulators have shut down 52 companies for poor safety records in a major nationwide crackdown, Associated Press, or AP, reported on Thursday, quoting officials from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The affected companies include low-cost carriers and shady companies that reportedly also served school bands, Boy Scouts and senior citizens. The move comes after the agency was criticized for allowing companies with serious safety violations to function, leading to crashes. Most of the companies had violated safety standards including failure to enforce hours-of-service rules, proper maintenance of vehicles and equipment.
The 52 companies that were shut down "put safety by the wayside in order to compete in a very tight market," Anne S. Ferro, FMCSA's administrator, told AP on Thursday.
Since April, in a drive titled "Operation Quick Strike," the agency probed about 250 motor-coach companies after reports claimed that some of the major crashes -- such as the ones that occurred in the mountains east of Los Angeles and California, Oregon and Kentucky -- involved carriers that had dismal safety norms, AP reported. The agency regulates about 4,000 interstate bus lines.
The crash in Oregon involved a tour bus that skidded off a mountain highway and crashed down a snow-covered slope, killing nine passengers and injuring at least 27 others, in Pendleton on Dec. 31, 2012. On Aug. 22, a tour bus carrying passengers to a California casino flipped onto its side on a freeway outside Los Angeles, injuring about 50 people.
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The crackdown led to a detailed investigation, extending over several weeks in some cases compared to the few days it took in the past, the agency said, adding that out of the 1,300 buses it inspected, 340 buses were removed from service at least temporarily.
Salt Lake Shuttles of Utah, the investigation found, made its drivers cover a round trip of more than 800 miles between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas without adequate rest, while another company Illini Tours of Illinois continued to operate a single bus for several days despite the activation of a warning light indicating problems with the anti-lock braking system, AP reported.
Ferro acknowledged that criticism from the National Transportation Safety Board over the Los Angeles and Oregon crashes amounted to a wake-up call for the agency. "We might not have been catching all the elements," she said, according to AP news.
Federal accident investigators, last month, had called for an investigation of the FMCSA, for failing to carry out its responsibility.
In a separate crackdown, the FMCSA revoked the licenses of about 6,500 freight brokers -- most of them small and inactive -- for their inability or unwillingness to meet new insurance requirements, SupplyChainDigest reported on Tuesday. The agency, in the last week of November, also shut down five moving companies in Florida, South Carolina and Maryland for holding customer shipments hostage and failing to turn over records related to their investigations.
While the FMCSA has come under fire for not doing enough to safeguard passengers, this is not the first time the agency has cracked down on private bus operators.
In March, the FMCSA suspended Fung Wah Bus Transportation Inc., a popular bus operator serving the Eastern seaboard, citing repeated violations that “substantially increase the likelihood of serious injury or death” for drivers as well as passengers, the Wall Street Journal reported at the time.