Fifteen people died in a terrible bus accident in March of this year in the Bronx. The bus was owned and operated by World Wide Travel in Brooklyn. According to the New York Times, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) investigation of the tour bus accident turned up serious safety violations.
The company’s driver had violated the “hours of service” regulations that govern how many hours a driver can stay on the road and how long they have to rest. The report showed the company routinely violated these regulations.
The driver of the fatal bus was indicted on manslaughter charges, and the FMCSA shut down World Wide Travel. But that is not the end of the story. World Wide Travel may have been closed, but the Times reports that buses and drivers were transferred to another Brooklyn company owned by the same person who owned World Wide Travel.
Regulations and Reincarnation
The FMCSA can shut down a bus company for safety violations. The problem is often the business reappears weeks or months later with little more than a name change. This happens so frequently that in 2009 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report after a bus accident in 2008 killed 17 in Sherman, Texas.
That report found nine percent of closed bus companies reopen as newly named entities. Twenty “out of service” carriers had “morphed” or “reincarnated” as differently named carriers.
Changing names is perfectly legal. It makes tracking dangerous carriers difficult, but there is nothing that prohibits a company from “going out of business” and then reappearing with a new name.
The FMCSA has limited resources to attempt to discover these rouge bus companies. Stricter enforcement will probably require additional regulations and more funding.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) noted in response to the report, sometimes companies transfer ownership for bona fide reasons, and detecting and proving a “reincarnation” done to avoid detection by authorities is labor-intensive and demands additional documentation beyond a normal compliance review.
Source: The New York Times, After Bronx Crash, a Bus Fleet Stays on the Road, Christine Negroni, 4 October 2011