Fatal crashes more likely on discount buses: Report

Kin Yiu Cheung (l.) and his lawyer Murray Janus arrive at Caroline County court in Bowling Green, Va., for Cheung's arraignment in June. Virginia authorities said Cheung fell asleep at the wheel. AP Photo/
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Discount buses, such as those piloted by Queens drivers in two recent accidents, are seven times more likely to be involved a fatal smashup than regular buses, a federal agency reported this week.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the industry, at the request of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-Ridgewood).

“It’s abundantly clear that the oversight of this industry has not kept pace with its growth and the consequences have been deadly,” Schumer said. “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.”

Curbside buses, renowned for their low fares, pick up and discharge passengers on streets rather than bus stations.

The investigation concluded that:

• the fatal accident rate for curbside carriers from January 2005 to March 2011 was seven times that of conventional bus operations — 1.4 fatal accidents per 100 vehicles for curbside carriers compared with 0.2 fatal accidents per 100 vehicles for conventional scheduled carriers

• bus driver fatigue, a contributing factor in many accidents, is a continuing safety concern

• in general, motorcoach travel is safe, but curbside carriers with 10 or fewer buses and carriers that have been in business for 10 years or less have higher accident rates and higher roadside inspection violation rates

The worst crash occurred March 12 on route I-95 in the Bronx, when a bus returning to Chinatown from the Mohegan Sun Casino left the highway, flipped onto its side and skidded hundreds of feet before striking a steel pole, which ripped the bus open. The crash left 15 passengers dead and 18 injured.

Investigators concluded that the driver, Ophadell Williams, of Brooklyn, was fatigued from prolonged lack of sleep.

Queens drivers have been involved in at least two accidents involving curbside buses.

Kin Yiu Cheung, of Flushing, was driving a Sky Express Bus Co. bus on I-95 that overturned in Caroline County, Va., in May, killing four passengers, including two from Queens. Virginia authorities said Cheung fell asleep at the wheel. Twenty passengers were injured and four died in a hospital, including Karen Blyden-DeCastro, of Cambria Heights, and Jesefa Torres, 78, of Jamaica.

The U.S. Department of Transportation issued an out-of-service order for Sky Express.

On March 14, a Super Luxury Tours bus crashed near East Brunswick, N.J., en route from Chinatown to points in Pennsylvania. Wei Wang, of Forest Hills, was killed. In late March, a crash of a bus of the Flushing-based Big Boy Coach Inc. caused injuries in New Hampshire.

The NTSB report said that overseeing the curbside bus lines were complicated because they do not use terminals, so safety inspections are difficult to carry out and many conduct business and paperwork in foreign languages.

Federal officials also said the numbers of inspectors are also far outnumbered by the number of such low-cost bus lines.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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