Union pleased with bus ban but says fatigue is the issue

WASHINGTON - The Amalgamated Transit Union commended the Obama administration's Transportation Department for ordering a charter bus company with prior safety violations off the road after a fatal crash in Oregon.  But ATU says barring the firm still doesn't attack the key cause of such crashes: Driver fatigue from overwork.

And the federal government has done little to attack that basic issue, union President Larry Hanley told Press Associates Union News Service.  "The body count will grow until they" - Congress and the administration - "pay attention to the issue."

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the DOT agency that regulates bus safety, suspended the operating permit of Canadian-based Mi Joo Tour & Travel after one of its buses plunged down an embankment off an Interstate in Oregon. The Dec. 30 crash killed nine people and injured 39 more.

The bus driver had toiled for 92 hours behind the wheel in the prior seven days, far above the maximum 70 hours that FMCSA rules allow.  Overtime law does not cover such drivers. The Oregon crash was the latest fatal accident involving an overworked intercity bus driver.  Other recent fatal crashes occurred in New York City and Virginia.

"How many more must die before the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament address driver fatigue to protect bus drivers and the passengers they carry?" the union asked in a prepared statement.  Overworked bus drivers, Hanley said, have become scapegoats for unsafe bus companies that operate "sweatshops on wheels."

ATU issued a report last year documenting extensive driver fatigue and its direct relevance to fatal bus crashes.  The report said non-union intercity bus drivers often must work long hours, as the Oregon driver did, to earn enough to feed their families.  Those not spending extra hours behind the wheel, it added, must take second jobs.

"Bus drivers should not have to work the hours they do just in order to make a living," Hanley told PAI.  "And this doesn't cover just fly-by-night operators, either."

Congress and FMCSA have by and large ignored the ATU report.  ATU is the largest union for city bus and rapid transit drivers, but also represents drivers on some major intercity carriers, such as Greyhound.            

FMCSA said the bus firm sent its driver out on the road without proper rest.  It also said the firm previously violated U.S. drug and alcohol testing standards.  It called the firm's operations "an imminent hazard" to passengers.