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November 4, 2011

A report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has found that popular, low fare curbside buses have a significantly higher fatal accident rate than conventional bus carriers.

Curbside buses pick up and drop off passengers at retail stores, parking lots or other curbside location rather than bus terminals. The curbside bus service is a relatively new segment of the motorcoach industry with little data and no specific regulation.

Reuters reports that fares on curbside buses can be as low as $1 and rarely exceed $30.

New York City is a popular destination for curbside buses from Canada and states such as Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and North Carolina.

Along with reviewing data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the NTSB conducted a field study with interviews and focus groups to gain an accurate perspective of bus carrier’s review and inspection.

The agency found that curbside carriers were seven times more likely to be involved in an accident resulting in fatalities than conventional bus carriers. They also had higher roadside inspection violation rates.

The NTSB compiled the report at the request of U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) after a March 2011 curbside bus accident in New York’s Bronx left fifteen passengers dead and eighteen more injured.

Since that time, the NTSB has investigated or reviewed five curbside bus accidents in which 22 people died and 159 sustained injury.

"It’s abundantly clear that the oversight of this industry has not kept pace with its growth and the consequences have been deadly," said Senator Schumer. "The NTSB report is a wake-up call that we need a more rigorous regulatory regime and it provides a blueprint for how to fill the gaps. I want to thank Chairman Hersman for so quickly and efficiently responding to our goal and I look forward to working with her as we now begin the process of working to overhaul how this industry is regulated and monitored."

Because consumers buy tickets for curbside buses online through third party ticket brokers, it is difficult for them to check the safety record of the bus carrier, reports The Associated Press.

"When travelers board a bus, they should feel safe, whether the trip starts in a terminal or at a Chinatown sidewalk," said Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY). "The NTSB study has revealed important information about curbside motorcoach travel and, in the coming weeks, we’ll need to continue working to improve the safety regulations that govern this growing industry."

The report showed that the FMCSA is too woefully overburdened to keep up with inspections, with a ratio of just 1.15 investigators per 1,000 motor carriers. Curbside carriers shut down for safety violations often reopen under a different name, called reincarnated carriers, repainting buses, moving to different states and placing company ownership in another relative’s name. The lack of curbside carrier’s fixed terminal and incorrect contact information provided to regulatory authorities by carriers made scheduling and conducting inspections difficult.

"Business and safety practices within the growing curbside bus industry create challenges for enforcement authorities and consumers alike when it comes to separating the safe operators from the unsafe operators," Chairman Hersman said during a press conference.

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