Guest Host: Jim Asendio

A recent report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)raises disturbing questions about the safety of curbside intercity buses. We talk with Deborah Hersman, the chair of the NTSB, about the study, what it means for all travelers, and what’s happening on Capitol Hill.

Guests

  • Deborah Hersman Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board

Transcript

  • 13:23:57

    MR. JIM ASENDIOWelcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm news director -- WAMU News news director Jim Asendio, sitting in for Kojo today. Well, if you spent any time on the roads, in a plane, or on a train in the past 36 hours or so you probably already know this, but yesterday was one of the busiest travel days of the year. And one of the most popular ways to get over the river and through the woods these days is by taking a curbside bus, low-cost, inner-city motor coaches that don't operate out of traditional terminals. And they offer fares as low as a dollar.

  • 13:24:25

    MR. JIM ASENDIOThey have really taken off in the last few years, but a spade of accidents prompted the National Transportation Safety Board to look into the safety of these carriers. And they uncovered shady practices, lack of oversight and accident rates much higher than those of traditional carriers. So joining us today right now in studio is Debbie Hersman. She's chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, the NTSB. Thanks for joining us here at "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:24:48

    MS. DEBORAH HERSMANHappy to be here.

  • 13:24:50

    ASENDIOWell, when it comes to the safety of these buses, the airlines and the ferries that Americans board what is the NTSB's role? Now we always -- usually we hear NTSB when there's an airline crash, you know, and they say the NTSB investigators will be here and we can't have any information and they're looking for the black boxes, which are actually orange. But your agency covers transportation, you know, the safety of transportation throughout the United States.

  • 13:25:16

    HERSMANWe do. We're charged with investigating accidents in all modes of transportation. And probably some of your listeners were familiar with our investigation into the metro crash in June of 2009. And so we look at accidents in all modes of transportation to find safety issues to prevent those accidents from occurring again. We don't have the power to require anybody to do anything but we do make recommendations. And 80 percent of our recommendations do get accepted or adopted in a favorable way.

  • 13:25:44

    ASENDIONow sort of position the NTSB. It's an independent agency. Now you report to both congress and the White House. Well, how do -- and so does your work influence legislation, creates legislation or how do we go from what your findings are or what you determine a situation to be to where we're correcting that situation?

  • 13:26:05

    HERSMANWell, you know, that's a great question because there are many ways to effect change. And some of the changes that we effect are really just by shining a spotlight on a situation, letting people know what we see. And that's kind of what we did here in this curbside study. And then other people can take action either from our findings or our recommendations. And so very often the congress does look to us, asks us to testify and share with them what we found. And then they may introduce legislation to address those issues.

  • 13:26:34

    HERSMANWe also can make recommendations to the regulators, to the people who oversee the operators in the industry. We can make recommendations to companies that manufacture equipment. If we identify defects we can make recommendations to companies. Say for example like Metro if we identify safety deficiencies that need to be corrected. Or we can make recommendations even to labor unions if we think that will help.

  • 13:26:57

    HERSMANAnd so we can make recommendations to anybody. It's really up to them if they choose to implement them. But again we do tend to have a lot of attention sometimes on the accidents that we investigate and so there is public pressure to do something to change them.

  • 13:27:12

    ASENDIONow does the agency differ from other regulatory bodies in that it actually investigates, that you -- your investigators will show up and they have basically total control of a situation to determine what caused it? And if anything needs to come out of that?

  • 13:27:28

    HERSMANThat's right. We are very separate and distinct from the regulators. We actually were a part of the Department of Transportation when it was originally created in 1967. But in 1974, we were made completely independent from the Department of Transportation. And so we have that unique dual report to the congress and to the president. And so we provide the insight that we find in our accident investigations to others and help them inform their decision making processes.

  • 13:27:54

    ASENDIOIn late October, the NTSB released a study on the safety of these curbside motor coaches. But before we get into the results can you -- first, for listeners who don't understand, what is a curbside bus as opposed to a terminal-to-terminal bus and how long have they been around?

  • 13:28:08

    HERSMANWell, that's a great question because curbside operations are actually -- it's more of a business model and it's something that's come up in the last decade. And it's increasing in popularity and it's the first time that we've seen growth in the motor coach industry after about 40 years of declining popularity.

  • 13:28:26

    HERSMANBut the way that we define curbside operators -- because there is actually no regulatory definition of the curbside operator -- is we had three things. First, they were interstate motor coach companies that were conducting at least one scheduled trip from one city to another city or a destination like a casino. And then at least one of -- some of their trips, their scheduled trips had to originate or terminate at a location that's other than a terminal -- traditional bus terminal, so most of them are discharging passengers at one or more curbside location.

  • 13:29:03

    HERSMANSo on the street -- on a street corner, on a sidewalk, at an intersection, something that's not a terminal.

  • 13:29:09

    ASENDIOAs D.C. has wanted to do, we seem to be confuse -- mixing metaphors because we started out with curbside buses and then buses that came out of Union Station, the terminal. And now we have curbside buses that actually operate out of Union Station. How did that come about and does that complicate your work?

  • 13:29:29

    HERSMANWell, in some ways, it challenges the definition a little bit because in the last month, they've actually had even more operators coming into Union Station. But the concern for many is that the traditional bus terminals provided an opportunity where maintenance was done, where inspections could be performed, where the company's books could be looked at. And they could actually have a compliance review.

  • 13:29:53

    HERSMANWhat's happening now is that that traditional model doesn't exist anymore. And so there's really a lot of hybrids. There are companies that provide not only curbside operations and service, but they are also providing charter service and tour service. And so there's a lot of different models. But we found that there -- they're only out of -- all of the operators out there, there're about 4,000 bus companies out there, only about 71 of them provide curbside service. And so it's a small universe of curbside operators, even though they're doing quite a bit of business.

  • 13:30:29

    ASENDIONow one of the things from the news standpoint that we've had difficulty with whenever there's an action into something, you find out the name of the bus company. Then you do a search to try to find that. And there's an office somewhere and -- but that office is actually not the headquarters office, that the headquarters is in another state someplace. It's almost like a shell game where you have to, you know, you have to follow the money or follow the registration in different states to find out, well, who actually owns this, who operates it and where do you fix your buses or maintain your buses?

  • 13:31:00

    HERSMANWell, that is one of the real challenges for the regulators who are overseeing these operators. We saw that there are about 8 to 900 inspectors that do compliance reviews for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. And there's about one inspector per 1,000 truck and bus companies. So it's extremely difficult for them to do oversight.

  • 13:31:24

    HERSMANAnd then we found that they're having a very difficult time identifying problem carriers, keeping bad carriers from reentering the market. And that they are -- a lot of carriers when they get a bad compliance review or a bad safety rating or a fine, they will actually go out of business, shut that down and just reapply for new operating authority. And so these are somewhat reincarnated carriers, but they try to leave their bad safety record behind and begin as a new carrier, very difficult for inspectors and investigators to follow them.

  • 13:31:58

    HERSMANAnd in many cases, we find that it is very much a shell game. And that's difficult for the regulators, but even harder for consumers to understand who the good operators and the bad operators are.

  • 13:32:09

    ASENDIOSo if you want to complain or even if you want to, you know, praise the service, you don't know who to call or if there's anybody to email or anything else.

  • 13:32:16

    HERSMANThat's right. And sometimes we see buses that are painted with a particular paint scheme and a company name but that's not actually who's operating the bus. We see buses that are sharing -- bus companies that share buses and drivers on different operating certificates. And that's one thing that we saw quite a bit in our study of the curbside operators is that many times they're sharing their assets. And so it's difficult to tell who they're operating for.

  • 13:32:42

    ASENDIOIf you want to participate in the conversation here, you can call 1-800-433-8850 or you can email kojo@wamu.org. Did you climb aboard a curbside bus to get to your Thanksgiving destination? Well, you call us and email us and tell us about the ride, the experience. If you've taken a curbside bus, have you ever worried about your safety? Why or why not? Did you ever wonder that if something happened would you be able to get to emergency services or be able to have some of your grievances addressed?

  • 13:33:15

    ASENDIOWe're speaking with Debbie Hersman. She's the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Now the study that you did of the curbside buses, you came up with, you know, that problem that, you know, who actually is operating the buses, where are they located. What other kinds of things did you come up with?

  • 13:33:31

    HERSMANWell, let me reassure your listeners by telling them first that one of the things that we want people to go away from this remembering is that buses are a safe mode of transportation. By and large buses are very safe and it is safer for a consumer to ride on the bus and travel -- particularly we know it's a very busy northeast corridor for these curbside operations -- it's safer to be in a bus than it is to travel in your car. And so you're much less likely to be in an accident or in a fatal accident if you're in a bus.

  • 13:34:03

    HERSMANSo it's not that buses are unsafe. It's just that there is a difference between bus carriers and it's important to know that. We found that curbside carriers have a wide range of sizes, of activities and safety standards. And our study compared curbside operators with traditional motor coach services. And we found that they had a higher fatal accident rate than traditional services. And so curbside carriers do -- when we look at accidents they are more dangerous.

  • 13:34:37

    HERSMANBut there is a difference between carriers. And so there can be very safe and very good and well managed curbside operators. And then there can be some that aren't so safe and aren't as rigorous in their safety standards. And it's really about the management and the safety of the company.

  • 13:34:55

    ASENDIONow when you talk about safety standards, are these company-set safety standards or are they industry-wide safety standards that some of these companies are not following or adhering to?

  • 13:35:05

    HERSMANWell, there's really a two-tiered approach. There are the very basic minimum standards that all companies have to comply with. And then there are companies that go above and beyond those minimum requirements. We find in our accident investigations that some operators don't even meet the minimum requirements.

  • 13:35:22

    ASENDIOAnd did you find out why? Do they know there's no one with a badge coming after them? That because they are such a small slice that, you know, out of sight out of mind or what?

  • 13:35:34

    HERSMANWell, I think in many situations it's because they can. They can get away with cutting corners. We want to make sure that they're conducting drug and alcohol tests. We want to make sure that their drivers are getting adequate rest between shifts so they're not fatigued when they're driving. We want to make sure that they're inspecting their vehicles and that the brakes are in good working order.

  • 13:35:55

    HERSMANSo all of the things that go along with managing a really -- a good operation are important when it comes to transporting passengers for hire. They're placing their trust in you to make sure that you get them to their destination safely. You need to make sure you're doing all that you can to maintain high safety standards.

  • 13:36:12

    ASENDIOOkay. Let's split this in two. When you talk about making sure that the buses are maintained, making sure the drivers aren't driving more hours than they should be, I can see a regulator or someone being able to check records. How as a passenger -- I mean, do you go to the driver and go, how many hours have you been driving today? And when was the last time you checked this bus?

  • 13:36:35

    ASENDIOI know as a news person every now and then either state police agencies or ICC, somebody will go out and they'll do a spot check on 95 or something and they pull over trucks, you know, 18-wheelers or something. And it's just amazing the number of violations they find. Some of them are so gross that they shut the vehicle down and the driver has to go and they have to tow it. I mean, how do we know? I mean, I don't see, you know, NTSB cars driving along 95, you know, with their red lights pulling buses over. I mean, how do I know when I go buy a ticket that I'm okay?

  • 13:37:11

    HERSMANAnd that is one of the toughest questions I think for consumers to answer. And so the NTSB, we're not the regulator. We really are the accident investigator and so we share with people what we learn. But the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is the federal regulator. And then each of the states have inter -- intrastate offices that look at operations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration does have a website where you can put in your zip code and look up bus services and bus ratings. But it is a very big challenge.

  • 13:37:44

    HERSMANAs I mentioned, they just don't have the inspection force to keep up with all the new entrants that are coming into the business and really to do the inspections that need to be done. The data is very much a problem for them. Carriers are supposed to update their data annually to make sure that they're -- the number of buses and the number of miles that they drive each year and the number of drivers is adequate. That's the exposure rate to know. If they have that many accidents how many buses are out there? How much are they driving?

  • 13:38:13

    HERSMANMost carriers are not -- on the curbside side are not updating that information accurately and regularly. And so that's a problem. If they have bad data and they're predicating their safety assessments based on data that's incomplete, that's a problem. But strike forces and checkpoints are a great way to look at bus operations to get the bad carriers off the road. And that's really what we want to do, is we want to focus on the bad carriers and get them off the road.

  • 13:38:40

    ASENDIOYou're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Jim Asendio, WAMU news director sitting in for Kojo today. And we're speaking with Debbie Hersman, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Let's go to Bruce in Reston, Va. You're on the air.

  • 13:38:52

    BRUCEHi. In terms of companies shutting down and opening new ones, I just wondered why the government could not require social security numbers and pictures and maybe even the fingerprints of every applicant which can be cross checked on a database, so if they open a new company it can determine it's the same owners.

  • 13:39:12

    ASENDIOSo a national database.

  • 13:39:14

    HERSMANWell, there are requirements that the Department of Transportation has for new entrants. They do have to provide information about who they're principal officers are. I don't think they have to provide fingerprints and things like that, but they do have to provide names. FMCSA has worked to try to get at those reincarnated or chameleon carriers. But what we found in looking at accidents and evaluating that is that they still are having a lot of trouble keeping the bad operators from getting operating authority. 'Cause there are people who will try to circumvent the system and they need to do better when it comes to keeping those bad operators off the road.

  • 13:39:55

    ASENDIONow many of the bus operators -- the curbside bus operators out of D.C., they make the east coast run from -- you know, to -- from here to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Boston. We have Bruce in New York City. You're on the air. Go ahead, Bruce.

  • 13:40:08

    BRUCEYeah, thanks. You mentioned one thing that the NTSB looked that in this report is making sure that driver's had adequate rest to avoid fatigue, and the NTSB previously had identified driver fatigue as the leading cause of fatal inner city bus crashes, and I represent the Amalgamated Transit Union representing some over-the-road bus drivers, and our union as you know advocates ending the exemption of long-distance bus drivers from the overtime provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act in order to remove the economic incentive that employers have by forcing their drivers, or allowing their drivers to work more than hours than really would be optimal.

  • 13:40:48

    BRUCEWe had a chance to discuss this with you at one point, and I'd just like to follow up on that discussion and ask about your further thoughts on the subject of how to eliminate driver fatigue?

  • 13:40:59

    MS. DEBORA HERSMANWell, we've looked at fatigue obviously for decades. We have identified it in all modes of transportation, and it's been on our most wanted list since its inception, and so we are very much concerned about fatigue. You and I talked about this, and bus drivers and truck drivers are exempt from Fair Labor Standards Act and they have different hours of service, and those hours of service regulations have been revised and debated certainly for the last 10 years very heavily, and our focus still remains on making sure that all drivers are well rested when they get behind the wheel.

  • 13:41:35

    ASENDIOWe'll continue our conversation about the safety of interstate curbside bus service with Debbie Hersman, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, after this short break. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm WAMU news director, Jim Asendio, sitting in today for Kojo.

  • 13:43:28

    ASENDIOWelcome back. I'm news director, Jim Asendio, sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." We're speaking with Debbie Hersman the chairman of the -- well, why do they call it the chairman? Do you like chairperson, chairperson, or it doesn't matter? Or is that official title?

  • 13:43:41

    HERSMANIt's fine. The statute says chairman, so that's just fine.

  • 13:43:44

    ASENDIOChairman. Okay. Debbie Hersman, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. We have a question from Dean, a Twitter question. "I take buses twice a week between New York City and D.C. Saturday night, I was on a bus and the driver was obviously falling asleep. What can I do?"

  • 13:44:00

    HERSMANOh, Dean, that's very scary and that is something that the Safety Board struggled with for a long time. We have investigated accidents where passengers on board a bus that was in New York actually leaving from a casino. The operator had stayed in the casino all night and was falling asleep, and the passengers knew he was falling asleep, and they were talking to him and trying to keep him awake and he still ended up falling asleep and then rolling the bus, and that is a very scary situation.

  • 13:44:26

    HERSMANFor sure try to make sure that the bus driver is attentive, that he's awake and alert, perhaps by chatting with him. But I think, you know, at that point you are on board a bus and you're in a very dangerous situation. Don't hesitate to -- if there's a number posted to call that, or even to call 911 if you think that you're in a situation where that bus needs to get pulled over. Not saying something or not intervening is really -- you're really taking a risk there.

  • 13:44:53

    HERSMANWe did investigate an accident down here in Doswell, Va. this summer. It occurred at the end of May and in that one we had a very fatigued bus driver. That accident is still under investigation, but again, there were four fatalities in that crash.

  • 13:45:09

    ASENDIOWhat -- what are the rules right now? Is it a certain number of hours? I know airline pilots, they can only fly a certain number of hours within a given period. Is it the same for bus operators?

  • 13:45:18

    HERSMANIt is. It's the same for bus operators that they can work a limited number of hours and they have to have a minimum number of hours off duty. But the number of hours that they can work is very high, 15 hours they can be on duty, 10 of those they can drive and then they need to get eight hours off.

  • 13:45:36

    ASENDIOAnd that 10 hours can be in any kind of condition. I mean, you're talking about 10 hours driving in a snow storm or in the hills of Pennsylvania or something like that. It all -- road conditions vary tremendously. If you're going up and down 95 that's one thing. If you're making multiple stops and -- and going into small towns that's an entirely different driving experience.

  • 13:45:59

    HERSMANThat's right. And, you know, it could be heavy traffic conditions, weather, and the hours are not reflective of whether they're daytime driving hours or nighttime driving hours, and we know that people experience a Circadian dip and a lot of accidents will happen in the very early hours of the morning between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m. and so the hours don't really take into account all hours are not the same. Ten hours driving starting at 7:00 at night is very different than 10 hours of driving starting at 7:00 in the morning. And so fatigue is a real issue and a real concern for us, and it's been on our most wanted list for a long time.

  • 13:46:39

    ASENDIONow, Ted in Silver Spring has a specific question and would like to know about the safety record of Megabus, one of major curbside carriers. Megabus made a big push here in D.C. to make the New York-D.C. run. Do you have any specifics or do you just want to talk about the group of curbside people, you know, carriers.

  • 13:46:58

    HERSMANWell, the NTSB does not keep safety records. That's the regulator, the enforcement agency, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and so you could certainly go to their website and look up the information that they have on Megabus. They might have information that they can display to you regarding the number of inspections. But one of the things that we did find is that there is a big difference between curbside operators, and we found that carriers that had been in business for less than 10 years, and had less than 10 buses tended to have poor safety records than those larger carriers that had been in business for a longer time. And so that's just a statistical comparison, but if you want to look up a specific company you could do to the FMCSA website.

  • 13:47:43

    ASENDIOI just glanced at the -- under miscellaneous on the notes that the producers provided me, and this jumped out at me. You have a commercial driver's license with passenger school bus and air brake endorsements, you've completed the motorcycle basic rider course, and you hold a motorcycle endorsement on your license. You have a -- you're a certified child passenger safety technician, and you've also completed the 40-hour hazardous waste operations and emergency response standard training course. What are you preparing for? This is after NTSB?

  • 13:48:16

    HERSMANWell, I joke with my husband if things don't work out here, I could always do "Ice Road Truckers" or something. But, no. No. In all honesty, really the reason why I have studied for those things is because I want to make sure that as we're investigating accidents and making recommendations, that we truly understand as much as possible about the environments that we're making recommendations. So what better way to identify what kind of training commercial drivers get than to go through it to understand the conditions that they operate in.

  • 13:48:47

    HERSMANAnd I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who operate commercial vehicles. It is challenging, it is tough, I...

  • 13:48:56

    ASENDIOEspecially when there are cars on the road.

  • 13:48:58

    HERSMANAbsolutely. Absolutely

  • 13:48:59

    ASENDIOThe people that drive cars do not, you know, give trucks or buses any kind of leeway. They think that they can stop on a dime and they can't.

  • 13:49:07

    HERSMANThey, you know, it is. It's very tough. I went through school bus driving training here in Fairfax County, behind the wheel and classroom training, and I take opportunities to go out on the road. I actually traveled from here to Louisville, Kentucky for the Mid-America Truck Show, and I rode with five different drivers to get there and see what trucking is like across the country. And so it is good to see those things. It helps inform me to make better decisions, and so that's the reason why I have obtained those certifications.

  • 13:49:35

    ASENDIOWell, here's a question. Are they still using CB radios, because there was a popular time when everybody, you know, would put them in their cars and -- well, the truckers started them. Are they still using CB's?

  • 13:49:46

    HERSMANYou know what, everyone really is connected the same way the rest of the population is connected through cell phones, blackberries, iPhones, and they -- a lot of them have Bluetooths in there, and I should just say for full disclosure, the NTSB has recommended that commercial drivers not text or talk on the phone, handheld or hands-free, while they are behind the wheel. We believe that this is a distraction and results in accidents, and that's a topic for another show. But they all listen to Sirius radio and they communicate with their families the way the rest of us do.

  • 13:50:27

    ASENDIOAnd hopefully they'll listen to public radio on Sirius radio.

  • 13:50:30

    HERSMANAnd many of them do, I am sure of that.

  • 13:50:33

    ASENDIODoes it make your job more difficult because you have state-by-state licensing? There's really no national driver's license, you know, for professional drivers, that it is a state-by-state situation, and you would have to approach 50 states to get something uniform?

  • 13:50:50

    HERSMANYou know, the good thing about commercial driver's licenses is there are standards that really have been adopted or incorporated but all states and the District of Columbia to make sure that there is a consistent treatment so that they don't have forum shopping and they end up getting a license revoked in one state and then they go to another state. And so there is a centralized list, it's called CDLIST, Commercial Driver's List, and all of the drivers from all the states really are housed within that unified list, so you can't hide violations that you get from one state to another, and to make sure that the reporting is fair and that everything is tracked.

  • 13:51:28

    ASENDIOOkay. Let's go to the phones. Hal is in Washington, D.C., you're on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:51:32

    HALYeah. Hi, thanks for taking my call. My question was about Greyhound. It doesn't seem like they've been mentioned very much in the conversation. My experience is that they just provide absolutely wretched service, and it's because they're so poor in what they do that all of these other bus lines have emerged. I'm curious what the speaker is doing to hold them into account. Why is there so much focus just on safety concerns, when really it's the quality of service that matters? And these other providers that are the subject of so much criticism really provide so much of a better service than Greyhound which can't -- I can't say one good thing about.

  • 13:52:03

    HERSMANIs the caller -- if the caller is still on, I'm curious if you've taken any curbside service recently.

  • 13:52:08

    HALTons, many.

  • 13:52:09

    HERSMANAnd who did you ride with?

  • 13:52:11

    HALI've -- Megabus, BoltBus, I've rode with some of the smaller carriers too. I think Bolt Bus is fantastic. They're always on time, they're seats are clean, and their service is a fraction of the price of what Greyhound charges. Greyhound has I think -- I'm not certain of this, but I think that they've got a government monopoly the places that they operate from that doesn't give them the same the incentive to provide quality services that the other smaller lines do. It seems like they should really be the focus of government scrutiny, not BoltBus and Megabus, which I think provide excellent services.

  • 13:52:47

    HERSMANWould you be surprised to know that Greyhound owns BoltBus?

  • 13:52:54

    HALI mean, I think that -- yeah, I guess I would be. Yeah.

  • 13:52:57

    HERSMANYeah. So that's the interesting thing. It's really a business model, the curbside operators, and you've got many large carriers that are also providing curbside service, and Greyhound provides curbside service under the name of BoltBus.

  • 13:53:11

    ASENDIOOkay. Let's go to Thor in Washington D.C. You're on the air.

  • 13:53:15

    THORHello?

  • 13:53:16

    ASENDIOYes. You're on the air. Go ahead.

  • 13:53:17

    THOROh, hi, sorry. I just wanted to share an experience that I had a few years ago taking what we call the Chinatown bus from Philadelphia to New York over Thanksgiving weekend. Going up was fantastic. On the way back, however, the driver stopped at a rest stop for two hours and he gave us no indication of when we would be leaving again, and either he didn't speak English or he did not want to respond to any of the passengers' concerns about why we were stopped.

  • 13:53:44

    THORAnd then when we arrived back in Philadelphia, he did not take us back to where he picked us up. He took us to a remote part of the city in what appeared to be a vacant lot and then just got off the bus and walked away. A lot of the people on the bus did not know where we were in the city. I was lucky enough to know where we were, and so I was able to guide people back to a busier part of the city where they could catch a cab and go home.

  • 13:54:06

    THOROn my way out I was so appalled, I couldn't find any information about the driver, anything like that so I could make a complaint to the company. I was wondering if there's gonna be any sort of general regulations to keep track of these smaller providers.

  • 13:54:21

    ASENDIOAlso, we have an email from Jonathan. He says, "I once rode a bus from Chinatown to Philly. They couldn't close the roof escape hatch in the back of the bus, so we got rained on quite a bit, but my alternative was a hundred plus dollar train ticket. I think I paid $45 for the round-trip bus ticket. For reporting these concerns if there as a site that I could have contacted through an app I would have. Heck, these days I could have taken a snapshot and attached it to an email, but that would have meant that the bus would have been pulled out of service and all those passengers would have blamed me. What are my rights as a passenger?" So both the caller and the emailer having the same concerns.

  • 13:54:55

    HERSMANWell, unfortunately, the NTSB, we're not an agency that focuses on customer service or making sure that people get what they paid for. We really are an accident investigation agency, and so we are looking only at safety. But when there's an unsafe operation for sure that that's a problem, all of these issues need to be reported and this is the challenge. This industry is rapidly growing. They don't have effective oversight, and so all of these issues that the callers raise are problems.

  • 13:55:29

    HERSMANI would say, though, that it's important to report some of this information, and I will tell you that in our study we did identify that curbside motor coach carrier drivers are more likely to receive a citation for English deficiency when it comes to driver fitness. They are two to three times more likely to be cited for their lack of ability to communicate in English with an inspector in a random roadside inspection than a conventional motor coach operator. So many of them are using drivers that can't communicate, and certainly that's a safety concern when you get into a situation where an evacuation is needed, but from a safety perspective it's important to be able to report these safety violations and make sure that they get pulled over.

  • 13:56:15

    HERSMANThe consumer raises an interesting point though is if you actually pull someone over for a safety violation, then you have some passengers who are inconvenienced. But I'll tell you there's many accidents that we've investigated that I'm sure that those passengers which they could do it over again and be inconvenienced rather than have been in an accident with fatalities or serious injuries.

  • 13:56:36

    ASENDIONow, finally, we talked about, you know, the low cost of these carriers, the -- for the most part they are safe. We have some outliers. What needs to be done to go after them? I would imagine somebody would respond that if we do all of these things it's gonna cost more and we're gonna be -- have to raise our rates, so we're trying to be a discount carrier. Is there a -- can you be a discount carrier and still be a safe carrier?

  • 13:57:04

    HERSMANAbsolutely. There are many carriers, and again, this is a business model. They're attracting a certain ridership and -- that wants to take the bus, and so it is a business model and we see a wide variation between very safe carriers and unsafe carriers in this business.

  • 13:57:23

    ASENDIOWe've been speaking with Debbie Hersman, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board about the safety of interstate curbside bus service. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, and Tayla Burnie, with help from Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein. Diane Vogel is the managing producer. Running the board today, the engineer Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez is on the phones. Podcasts of all shows, audio archives, and CD's and free transcripts are all available at our website kojoshow.org.

  • 13:57:57

    ASENDIOYou're also invited to join us on Facebook or send a tweet @kojoshow. I'm news director, Jim Asendio sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi and on the "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" today. Thanks for listening.

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