What will it take to get state and federal transportation officials to better regulate and oversee the charter bus industry? Are three deaths and 16 injuries finally enough?
A charter bus speeding along at about 58 mph hit an MTA bus on Northern Boulevard in Flushing on Monday, killing a 58-year-old pedestrian, who was pinned underneath one of the buses; a security guard, who was heading home from work via the Q20 MTA bus; and the tour bus driver. Video shows the charter bus ran a red light as it plowed into the city bus. The deceased driver, Raymond Mong, once worked for the MTA, but was fired after he was convicted of driving under the influence and evading arrest in 2015. Somehow, he ended up back behind the wheel of a bus. That shouldn’t have been possible.
The bus operator, Dahlia Transportation, never notified the state that Mong was driving for it, as required. And the federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration tagged the company for “unsafe driving” after finding that 83 percent of similar firms had better safety records than Dahlia.
Concerns over the safety of private charter buses aren’t new — and they’re not limited to New York. After each accident, elected officials demand reforms, which don’t happen. In a particularly horrific incident, 15 passengers died in 2011 when a tour bus hit a guardrail and turned on its side in the Bronx. While the driver was found not guilty, federal investigators cited fatigue as a cause and noted that the driver had had his license previously suspended.
The private tour bus industry has for too long operated without effective regulation. Federal, state and city officials must set the highest safety standards and then rigorously enforce them. Serious driving violations should disqualify drivers from holding a commercial license, companies should be held accountable with heavy fines and likely loss of operating permits, and bus drivers should be required to take updated driving courses and random drug and alcohol tests.
Rep. Grace Meng of Queens spoke out about the tragedy in Flushing. Now she must take part in driving a meaningful review of how government handles bus safety.