Low Fare Bus Industry Facing Closer Scrutiny After the Bus Crash on Interstate 95 in Caroline County
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Sky Express, Inc. Bus Crash in Caroline County, Virginia
On the early morning of May 31, 2011, a 2000 Setra motorcoach bus operated by Sky Express, Inc. crashed while travelling northbound on Interstate 95 in Caroline County, Virginia. The bus departed Greensville, North Carolina the previous evening and was on its way to New York City. Preliminary investigations by law enforcement officials into this bus accident determined that the bus driver, Kin Yiu Cheung, was fatigued and fell asleep at the wheel resulting in the bus crash. Cheung has been charged with four felony counts of involuntary manslaughter. Tragically, four passengers were killed and more than 50 were injured, some severely as a result of the bus accident.
This bus crash on I95 has focused a great deal of attention on the low fare bus industry. Low fare buses are often referred to as "curbside" buses or "Chinatown" buses. The names stem from the fact that the buses don't have terminals like major bus lines and often arrive or depart from the Chinatown area of New York. The industry has grown significantly over recent years. Many attribute the growth to the low fares, economy, and increased airline travel restrictions following 9/11. A Sky Express bus ticket from Charlotte, North Carolina to lower Manhattan runs $30. By comparison, a similar ticket on Greyhound can cost as much as $133. A plane ticket can cost hundreds of dollars more. While the lower cost might be enticing, some passengers have complained of poor service. In addition, some critics are raising concerns of low fare bus companies ignoring safety for the sake of profits. Some localities have even banned low fare bus companies from picking up passengers in their areas due to concerns about safety.
On May 31, 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued an unsatisfactory safety rating for Sky Express and placed the company's buses out of service after a full compliance review found multiple violations in the areas of driver qualifications, drug and alcohol compliance, hours and service, and vehicle maintenance. The federal agency's website documents a troubled inspection history for the company. Sky Express performed worse than 99.7 percent of all bus companies within the last 24 months in the "Driver Fitness" category which includes lack of training, experience, and medical qualifications. In addition, the company rated 86.2 percent worse than all passenger bus companies in the last 24 months in the "Fatigued Driver" category. The company scored worse than 62.9 percent of bus companies in the "Unsafe Driving" category which includes operating vehicles in a dangerous or careless manner. The federal government shut down Sky Express due to these safety concerns among others. Sky Express reportedly attempted to evade the government shutdown by repainting its buses and operating them under a different name – 108 Tours and 108 Bus. In response, federal authorities issued a cease and desist order against the company and its officers to stop continued operations under the new names.
Whether safety concerns are systemic to the industry or limited to a few bus companies is not fully known, but lawmakers intend to find out. On June 6, 2011, Senator Jim Webb and Senator Mark Warner joined four other senators in a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calling for prompt implementation of new safety standards targeted at preventing driver fatigue and urged that his Department "accelerate efforts to promptly remove unsafe motorcoach carriers from our roads, ensure driver preparedness, and protect passenger safety." Meanwhile, countless passengers are boarding low fare buses on a daily basis in hopes of travelling safely to their destination. Most will have no idea whether the company providing their transportation is safe.
The bus accident attorneys at the Allen Law Firm have significant experience investigating and litigating bus accident cases. Click here to view our case results. If you or a loved one has been injured in a bus accident, please call us now at 866-388-1307 for a free consultation.
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