Now that Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, is behind us, people planning their summer vacations are in search of the best deals in town. In these tough economic times, finding good deals can be the difference between staying home and affording summer travel.
A lot of people do the search on their own, or rely on travel journalists for the best advice on the best fares. I heard Peter Greenberg, a CBS travel editor, on the radio recently, talking about finding good deals and highlighting the cheap fares of intercity buses. The interview reminded me that travelers need to remember that price – in many cases shockingly cheap bus fares – doesn’t always tell the full story. In other words, cheaper isn’t always better.
The bus may have a shiny new paint job. It may even have reclining seats and Wi-Fi. But what really matters is the company’s safety record and the driver’s qualifications, wages and hours worked behind the wheel.
Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents Greyhound and other drivers, said it best: “If a 40,000-pound vehicle traveling at high rate of speed overturns and smashes into a bridge or falls over a cliff, the lives of the occupants are going to be in grave danger, even if they are strapped in and the vehicle has the strength of a tank. The real problem here is that bus drivers are falling asleep at the wheel because they work grueling hours at abysmally low wages.”
While many of the intercity bus carriers providing affordable rides follow important regulations that keep passengers safe, others ignore basic safety measures to offer those outrageously low fares. We saw this when federal regulators, led by Anne Ferro, Administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, shutdown 26 bus operations in a single sweep for posing imminent safety hazards. As part of these unprecedented efforts, Ferro and her team continue to target and remove unsafe carriers from our roadways despite limited resources. Unfortunately, bad actors remain, trimming costs where they can to line their own pockets.
It’s a simple strategy. Cut corners by ignoring vehicle upkeep requirements and continue operating buses with out-of-date safety measures. Then, pay workers abhorrent wages and fail to ensure they comply with hours of service limitations. These abysmal wages combined with a longstanding loophole that exempts bus drivers from collecting overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, force workers to drive grueling hours while fatigued. This fatal cocktail places passengers, drivers and motorists in danger.
Passengers have another choice, one that offers both affordable fares and the assurance of arrival at their destination safely. They need to look under the hood and choose to travel with motor carriers that respect their employees, abide by safety rules and pay a living wage so the drivers don’t have to drive excessive hours well beyond what is safe. And they need to know that their drivers aren’t being ripped off of overtime pay and thus forced to work too many hours or multiple jobs.
As Greenberg and other travel journalists continue to help average Americans afford some well-deserved R&R, we hope they remember the larger costs associated with giving away the seat and cutting all the wrong corners. Before you pack your bags this summer and book your ticket at a rock bottom fare, consider if that bus can actually be safe if the seat is almost free.