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Tougher regulations for discount charter buses

Discount charter buses like the one pictured that flipped over, killing fifteen passengers, as it headed back to New York City’s Chinatown from a Connecticut casino are the targets of new legislation sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Photo by AP.
April 11, 2011
In the face of two recent tragedies, the Assembly passed a bill April 4 that would create a regulatory system for intercity buses operating out of New York City.

"As last month's tragic crash in the Bronx made clear, it is past time to impose reasonable regulations on the discount bus industry. Today's unregulated environment is like the wild west, and that doesn't work for bus companies, passengers or the community," said Sen. Daniel Squadron, D-Carroll Gardens, who sponsors the bill (S.2977/A.4578).

The bill is sponsored in the Assembly by Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, whose district serves as one of New York City's discount bus hubs.

"Many of my constituents, particularly in Chinatown, rely on these low-cost buses and we have an urgent responsibility to make sure we have a permit system that focuses on the safety and reliability of the companies that are allowed to operate in our city," said Silver.

The proposed system would assign a city agency to implement and enforce a system that would create official pick-up and drop-off locations, require a $5,000 bond for the bus company and provide notice and review of all application submissions. Local community boards and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority would have input in assigning pick-up and drop-off locations and the entire system would be subject to a public hearing before it is implemented.

Regulation of intercity buses comes on the heels of two bus crashes that resulted in the deaths of passengers. In one, a World Wide Tours bus headed to Chinatown from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut overturned, killing 15 passengers. The driver, Ophadell Williams, reportedly had a driver's license under an alias and was speeding prior to the crash. Less than two weeks later, a bus heading from Chinatown to Philadelphia rolled over, killing the driver and a passenger and injuring 40 other riders.

The bill, which would authorize a maximum yearly fee of $275 paid by bus companies, would not apply to school buses, sightseeing buses, transportation authority and municipal buses.

"This legislation will bring order to an often chaotic situation downtown by allowing for regulations that will improve the quality of life and for our community and make our streets and sidewalks safer," said Silver.

Before being passed by the Assembly, the bill had to receive authorization from New York City through a process called "home rule request," by which any legislation targeting a specific area must get approval from the local municipality.

City officials support the legislation and Squadron mentioned the necessity of giving the city the tools for local enforcement.

"Basic regulation at the local level would help enforce safety standards, allow legitimate bus companies to operate their businesses within the bounds of the law, and reduce noise, pollution and chronic congestion that harms the community," said Squadron. "I will continue to work with my colleagues and New York City to create reasonable regulations that make discount bus travel safer and more compatible with the community."

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