Charter bus report finds 20 percent of companies in NY have unsafe driving records

Nearly 21 percent of charter bus companies operating in New York have dangerous driving records, according to a new analysis by state lawmakers.

The report, published Thursday by the Independent Democratic Conference, found that of the 249 charter bus companies operating in the state, 51 have racked up enough driving violations to be considered unsafe by federal regulators’ standards.

Conference members are drafting legislation to clamp down on the industry through stiffer penalties and increased transparency.

“I think it is paramount that these companies get their acts together,” state Sen. Jeffrey Klein said. “That these companies make sure the drivers they’re hiring are safe drivers; that they’re not speeding and they’re not putting people’s lives at risk each and every day when they board these charter buses.”

Three people were killed Sept. 18 when the driver of a Dahlia charter bus sped through a red light on Northern Boulevard in Flushing at about 60 mph — double the posted speed limit — slamming into a turning MTA city bus. Investigators are still determining the cause of the collision.

Raymond Mong, driver of the Dahlia bus who died in the crash, was a former MTA bus driver who lost his job after being convicted of a DUI in a hit-and-run collision in 2015. Mong was driving for Dahlia illegally, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The company had never informed the DMV of his hiring, as required by state law given his prior DUI arrest.

One piece of Klein’s legislation would sharply increase DMV fines for companies who fail to disclose the hiring of a driver with a drunken driving conviction. For first offenders, the fine would be doubled, from a fine ranging between $500 and $2,500 to a minimum of $5,000. Subsequent fines between $1,000 and $10,000 would be tripled, according to Klein.

The second piece of legislation would require websites selling tickets to post every advertised bus company’s safety performance rating, as calculated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Dahlia, based in Queens, has a worse on-road performance than 83 percent of motor carriers in the same safety event group, according to FMCSA data.

Dahlia ranks seventh on the report’s list of “most dangerous” companies.

Federal and state regulations have proven difficult to enforce, as bad performers continue to operate on city streets. The state, for instance, does not have the authority to ban charter buses from operating in New York — that power lies with the federal government. And the onus remains on bus companies to report drivers to the state.

Klein said the legislation nevertheless would help curb offenders.

“They basically just now get a slap on the wrist,” Klein said, of the state’s penalty structure. “And that’s why I think it’s important that we double the penalties that they get the message very clearly, you know, abide by the law.”