Megabus, other low-cost curbside bus companies cited for speed, driver fatigue
When Herbert Kandeh was deciding how to get to Washington, D.C. from Philadelphia, there was only one way to go - a $26 Megabus ticket.
"Cost wise, this is the most economical for me," Kandeh said.
He's not alone. Across the extremely busy Northeast corridor and across the United States, low-cost bus carriers are booming in popularity. From Megabus to BoltBus to Vamoose and everything in between, the budget-conscious traveler has plenty of options to get from point A to point B for as little as $1. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board says that ridership on these bus lines has grown every year since 2006 after 45 years of declining passenger numbers.
PHOTOS: What's the difference between a conventional and a curbside carrier? What other issues does the NTSB believe are important to rectify?
But is the real price your safety? Several crashes involving bus carriers have made headlines over the past year. The most notable one occurred on a New York City highway, where 15 people were killed when a World Wide Travel bus crashed on I-95.
Closer to home, four people were killed when a Sky Express bus, driven by a fatigued driver, crashed in Caroline County on May 31. That service was taken off the road and the driver, Kin Yiu Cheung, was charged with manslaughter.
NTSB looks into safety
After these and several other incidents involving long-distance bus carriers, the NTSB released a report last October showing that these types of buses, which typically pick up passengers curbside rather than at a bus station, are seven times more likely to be involved in deadly crashes than traditional terminal bus lines like Greyhound and Peter Pan.
In the report, the NTSB says that curbside carriers had the highest overall accident rate and death/injured passenger rate of the three categories - curbside, conventional and non-scheduled - in which buses are organized.
Curbside buses also rated poorly for unsafe driving violations, driver fitness and driver fatigue. In general, the report says that bus travel is safe, but that these factors are a growing concern.
One of the major contributing factors in these crashes, the NTSB ruled, was speed. "(Buses) pose a high risk of death and injury to occupants of passenger vehicles involved in collisions with them due to the disparity in size and weight; speeding makes that risk even greater," the report states.
And, with so many of these bus lines crisscrossing the Baltimore-Washington area on a daily basis, ABC7's Kendis Gibson took to the highways with a radar gun.
How fast is too fast?
Camped out on an overpass on I-95 north of Baltimore, a main route that bus lines take between New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, and the District, many buses zipped by going well above the 65 mile-per-hour speed limit.
One Megabus that was headed to Boston was clocked at 76 miles per hour. Another one headed for New York sped by at 81. At times, even some double-decker buses zoomed up the freeway faster than regular passenger cars. In fact, Maryland State Police say that they've increased enforcement activities of these buses.
In response, Megabus told ABC7 that it monitors the speed of its bus fleet 24 hours a day. Officials say that on the day ABC7 was out with a radar gun, the fastest speed that they recorded on any bus in the area was 68 miles per hour.
"Safety is always our first priority," Megabus Director of Operations Bryony Chamberlain told ABC7 News. "Our systems and control of our services is extremely comprehensive and we work to improve the safe operation of all of our services." Click here to read the full statement from Megabus.
Bus lines can regulate speeds
The NTSB says that for the better part of two decades, carriers have had the ability to use devices known as speed governors, which can remotely control the maximum speed of their coaches. However, in many cases, they don't prevent speeding in areas where speed limits are lower; for instance, on the Capital Beltway, where the speed limit is 55.
Over the last four months, though, Maryland state troopers say they've clocked dozens of buses going over the speed limit. They've also stepped up inspections of buses at pickup and drop off locations throughout the state.
Law enforcement and punishing bus speeders
"You get what you pay for," Maryland State Police Capt. Norman Dofflemeyer said. "They can charge less because they're not into safety, not into maintaining driver records, not maintaining equipment."
But not all law enforcement agencies are taking this step. The NTSB report states that some don't pull over buses for speeding for various reasons, including not wanting to cause a hazard by having a large bus pulled over to the side of the road.
The report also says that on many occasions, speeding tickets levied on bus carriers are not entered into a database maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The NTSB report backs Dofflemeyer's statement up. The agency says that one of the differences between established carriers and low-cost bus lines, and even between some curbside services themselves, is the amount of training drivers get from one company to another.