New York

Schumer wants bus safety grades posted on windshields

'They are posted in such a small, hidden way no one sees them'
A police officer talks to a store employee near the scene of a bus crash last month.
A police officer talks to a store employee near the scene of a bus crash last month.

NEW YORK — A federal law requiring bus companies to post safety ratings where passengers can see them might have prevented a deadly bus crash in Queens last month, Sen. Chuck Schumer said, if riders had known where to look for the evaluations.

Schumer, D-N.Y., said Sunday that he wants to strengthen that law, which he helped pass in 2012, by amending it to require bus operators to post restaurant-style letter grades on their vehicles’ windshields.

“While there are safety grades when someone gets on a bus, they have no idea what they are,” Schumer said at a news conference at the Roosevelt Island Tramway plaza, where heavy traffic, including charter and tour buses, rumbled by. “They are required to be posted on the websites, but they are posted in such a small, hidden way no one sees them.”

Since 2012, bus companies have received one of three safety ratings — satisfactory, conditional and unsatisfactory — from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation.

Schumer wants those ratings converted to letter grades — A, B and C — and the grades posted on bus windshields. Schumer displayed a mock-up of what the grades might look like, noting their similarity to the grades required by New York City in the windows of bars and restaurants, a system Schumer praised as a success.

“We need this change,” Schumer said. “The law is on the books, but the federal DOT has not enforced it in an appropriate way. We need them to do that, and do that now, and it could go a long way to preventing the kind of horrible crash we saw in Queens.”

Around 6:15 a.m. on Sept. 18, at the start of the Monday morning rush, a charter bus operated by the Queens-based Dahlia Group ran a red light and struck a city bus. The collision killed the Dahlia driver, Raymond D. Mong, and two others, and injured 16 people. The charter bus was traveling at 58 mph — nearly twice the speed limit — at the time of the crash.

Mong, it was later learned, had been fired in 2015 as a bus driver for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority after an accident in which a sedan he was driving crashed into two cars on Interstate 95 in New Haven and he fled the scene. He received a suspended jail sentence and was placed on probation after being convicted of driving under the influence and evading arrest.

Dahlia, Schumer said, “had a terrible safety record — 11 violations — and the driver, this driver who caused these deaths, had been previously fired from the MTA because of a DUI.”

“But the passengers who got on the bus had no idea Dahlia was not a safe company,” he said. “That’s the tragedy of this.”

Last year, a Dahlia bus operated by another company, VMC East Coast, overturned during snowy weather en route to a Connecticut casino, injuring 30 people. In the last two years, Dahlia buses have been ticketed for speeding at least four times, including two instances when one of its buses was exceeding the speed limit by at least 15 mph, according to federal records, which also ranks Dahlia in the bottom 20 percent on unsafe driving.

For all that, as of Sunday, Dahlia still rates as “satisfactory” for safety on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website — the equivalent of an “A” under the grading system Schumer proposes.

Still, Schumer speculated that had the letter-grading system already been in place for a while, “Dahlia would have had no choice but to be far more careful. They might not have hired a bus driver who had had a previous DUI conviction.”

On Sunday, Schumer also said that many operators have no violations, and that highly visible letter grades would prompt passengers to use the safer carriers while forcing the unsafe ones to improve.

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