Feds close 52 passenger bus lines during months-long safety probe

A Transportation Department agency closed the motorcoach companies as part of Operation Quick Strike, an eight-month investigation of 250 bus lines it deemed to be the riskiest operators.

M. Spencer Green/ AP Photo/ File
Passengers in Chicago settle in on a bus bound for St. Louis and Memphis on Nov. 26, 2013. Improved bus safety was the aim of a federal review of the records and policies of some 250 carriers this year.

The federal government put 52 bus companies out of business between April and the end of November, ordering a total of 340 passenger vehicles off the road, as part of a effort to shut down unsafe motorcoach companies, according to a report released Thursday by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

During that window, the Department of Transportation dispatched more than 50 investigators to conduct in-depth reviews of patterns and practices of the 250 most at-risk motorcoach companies, according to FMCSA, the DOT agency that oversaw the operation. 

The safety crackdown, dubbed “Operation Quick Strike,” was prompted in part by a February bus crash near San Bernardino, Calif., that killed eight people and injured 30 others.

“Bus travel is increasingly popular because it is a convenient, inexpensive option for students, groups and families," 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 motorcoach travel."

Of 1,300 vehicles inspected over eight months, 340 were removed from service for safety and maintenance violations, the FMCSA reports.

The FMCSA shut down 20 motorcoach companies immediately in April for violations and for “posing an imminent hazard to the public,” and it issued “unsatisfactory” safety ratings to 32 others. The agency closed those 32 after they failed to remedy violations. Twenty-eight companies took corrective action to fix violations, Operation Quick Strike found.

The motorcoach industry carries about 700 million passengers a year in the United States, roughly the same as domestic airlines do, and transports a wide variety of passengers, ranging from school bands to senior citizens.

FMCSA shut down only one bus company, the Kansas-based Midnight Express LLC, following a passenger death. The agency closed the others for a variety of safety reasons. 

For example, drivers for Salt Lake Shuttles of Utah routinely worked the 800-plus-mile round trip between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas without the required period of rest, the agency said. Illini Tours of Illinois kept a bus in service several days after a warning light indicated problems with the antilock braking system, FMSCA reported.

In May 2012, the Transportation Department shut down 26 intercity bus operators, considering them "imminent hazards to public safety."

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was established in 2000 to help reduce fatalities and injuries resulting from bus and truck accidents.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. 

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