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Growing Intercity Bus Sector Can and Must Get Safer

By Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO

It may come as a surprise to some that one of the fastest-growing modes of transportation in the U.S. is intercity bus. After decades of declining ridership, intercity bus service has rebounded in a big way, boasting eight consecutive years of consistent growth. Driving this comeback are service modernization efforts, growing onboard amenities, and additional routes that stretch into new corners of the country.

Just like those traveling by plane or train, passengers traveling by intercity bus expect to arrive at their destinations safely. And while the majority of riders do, too many passengers and motorists are killed or catastrophically injured in tragic and preventable crashes each year.

With that in mind, it’s crucial that federal safety regulators at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) continue to expand and update safety requirements, particularly regarding entry and fitness requirements for new bus companies. We’re pleased to see that FMCSA is doing just that: last week TTD filed comments in favor of the agency’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on Financial Responsibility for Motor Carriers, Freight Forwarders, and Brokers.

One of the few requirements prospective bus carriers must meet to enter the market is obtaining and maintaining a minimum level of insurance – an important step in ensuring carriers’ safety adherence. However, that minimum level hasn’t been raised since it was established in 1985, despite the toll inflation has taken on medical and other crash-related costs. That’s right, motor carrier insurance standards have been frozen in time since Ronald Reagan was president. And today, motor carriers are paying lower premiums for insurance that covers less and less of the most costly of crashes, which in turn leaves passengers and other motorists involved in some crashes unable to receive the compensation they deserve.

In this ANPRM, FMCSA is considering updating that minimum level. As we did in our recent policy statement on the motorcoach industry, we urge the agency to issue a rulemaking that improves motorcoach safety by increasing the insurance requirement to a level capable of providing adequate coverage. This in turn will encourage insurance companies to investigate prospective carriers to ensure that they are safe operators, and will incentivize carriers to maintain safe operations to keep their premiums low.

In recent years FMCSA has consistently and commendably stepped up its efforts to enforce safety requirements, including through implementing an aggressive operation to target and remove unsafe bus companies. But one of the most effective ways to create a safe industry is to ensure that unsafe operators – many of whom notoriously pay their workers absurdly low wages and evade safety standards – cannot gain access to the market in the first place. Increasing the insurance requirement will raise the bar in just that way, helping to ensure that passengers can indeed be confident that the buses they travel on will get them safely where they need to go.

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