Another bus crash spurs pols to push bill in Albany

BY JOHN BAYLES | Elected officials came together in the wake of another tour bus crash on Tuesday, May 31, to demand the passage of a bill in Albany that would tighten regulations for intercity buses.

Early Tuesday morning, a bus bound for New York City crashed on I-95 just north of Richmond, Va., when its driver, a man from Flushing, Queens, allegedly fell asleep at the wheel. Four people were killed in the accident. The operator of the bus, Sky Express Bus Company, is based in North Carolina but is one of numerous companies that pick up and drop off passengers in New York City.

The tragic accident follows numerous other incidents involving tour buses that have led local politicians, including State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Council Member Margaret Chin, to draft legislation imposing the first-ever permit system for such buses in the City’s history.

On March 12, a World Wide Tours bus headed to Chinatown from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut collided with a highway signpost on I-95 in the Bronx, killing 15 passengers. Bus driver Ophadell Williams, a convicted criminal who survived the accident, shouldn’t have been behind the wheel, authorities said, since he was carrying an invalid driver’s license. Three days later, a bus that departed from Chinatown en route to Philadelphia crashed into a concrete pillar on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing the driver, a passenger and injuring dozens of others. The bus was operated by Super Luxury Tours.

The bus bill has passed the Assembly but is currently stalled in the Senate, where two versions of the bill are being considered.

“The way it works,” said Sen. Squadron, “is the Democrats do one thing and the Republicans do another.”

Squadron, a Democrat, said he would, however, vote for the Republican version of the bill should it come to the floor before the current legislative session ends in June. He said he would prefer the Democrat’s version of the bill that passed the Assembly, and would try to negotiate, but that bi-partisan politics would not stop him from trying to make bus-travel safer for everyone. He said the two bills do not differ significantly as they pertain to the regulation and the opportunities the law would allow when it comes to preventing another tragic crash.

“I would absolutely support [the Republican version],” said Squadron. “It’s about getting this law passed.”

Speaker Silver called Tuesday’s accident “another reminder” that Albany must do everything possible to improve safety conditions for intercity buses, many of which operate in the Chinatown community.

“The Assembly has passed legislation that would allow the City to regulate these buses and establish criteria for issuing permits to their operators. It is vital that this bill be enacted into law,” said Silver, at a press conference on Tuesday.

“This morning’s bus crash is yet another reminder that we need immediate regulation to improve the safety of this industry,” said Council Member Chin. “These buses are an important part of our economy, and connect people up and down the country for family, education and work. But some of these operators are dangerous, [the buses are] poorly maintained and the industry as a whole needs more careful oversight.”

Federal law regulates all intercity buses, but the Albany bill “would go a ways to improving the regulation,” remarked Chin.

“How many more people have to die before legislators in the State Senate and in Congress get the message? There are legislative options available today that would increase the safety and regulation of these buses, in New York and Washington,” said Chin. “What’s the holdup?”