Federal regulators shut down 52 bus companies in a nationwide safety crackdown prompted by fatal bus crashes in four states that killed 25 people and injured more than 80 in the last year.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it pulled 340 vehicles from the road after investigators found serious safety problems among the bus companies it investigated.
"Bus travel is increasingly popular because it is a convenient, inexpensive option for students, groups and families," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "But it must also be safe. Through Operation Quick Strike and our regular enforcement efforts, we're shutting down companies that put passengers at risk and educating the public on safe motor coach travel."
More than four dozen investigators began scrutinizing companies with poor safety records in April. The closure of the firms in 19 states comes just one month after the National Transportation Safety Board issued a scathing criticism of the agency that oversees the motor coach industry.
Although the motor carrier administration "deserves recognition for putting bad operators out of business, they need to crack down before crashes occur, not just after high-visibility events," NTSB Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman said Nov. 7.
"Our investigators found that, in many cases, the poor-performing company was on [the motor carrier administration's] radar for violations, but was allowed to continue operating and was not scrutinized closely until they had deadly crashes," Hersman said.
Over the last year, the motor carrier administration was aggressive in its inspections. Of the 52 companies shut down, only one was based in California.
Salcido Tours of Los Angeles, which operates in Southern California and Mexico, had its permit to operate revoked Nov. 19, federal records show.
The company, inspectors said, failed to make repairs after violations were found with three of the four coach buses the firm operates.
Over three reviews in August and September, inspectors found that one bus had several maintenance violations, including an inadequate brake system, balding tires and a nonfunctional turn signal. Among other violations were an improper aisle seat on the bus and electrical wiring problems.
Another coach bus had defective emergency exits and a third had a single minor violation — a tail lamp that was not working, records show. The company has not had a crash reported in the last two years.
Records also show that one bus driver, during a Sept. 6 inspection, did not have a commercial driver's license. Another citation was issued because one driver did not speak English. "Driver must be able to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language," the violation reads.
Carlos Martinez Barrera, the bus company owner, said in a telephone interview that he was fined $4,000 and was late to respond to inspection reports, which is why his permit to operate was revoked.
He said he is working to address the violations and hopes that his company, which has about 20 employees and has operated for a decade, will resume operations soon.
Barrera, 50, touted the company's safety record and said regulators' recent crackdown is overkill.
"It's good that they're doing inspections," he said in Spanish. "But I think they're exaggerating."
In its eight-month investigation, the federal agency said 20 companies were immediately shut down for violations "posing an imminent hazard to the public."
An additional 32 companies were given "unsatisfactory" safety ratings and closed after failing to make improvements.
Regulators said the companies failed to adequately maintain their buses, had inadequate programs to test drivers for drug and alcohol use and had widespread problems with drivers not taking required rest breaks during trips.
Overall, the motor coach industry carries about 700 million passengers a year in the U.S., roughly the same as domestic airlines.
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