NIAGARA FALLS – The federal government has ordered Coach USA Tour Inc., based in Niagara Falls, to cease all operations immediately.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration cited a serious disregard for passenger safety because of a lack of oversight and false record-keeping, according to the order issued Thursday.
The safety agency, part of the Department of Transportation, said the company’s drivers and vehicles posed an imminent hazard to public safety.
Coach USA Tour and its tour chief, Xiaojie Shun, operate a small fleet of tour buses that provide sightseeing tours in the Northeast. Its name is similar to, but has no affiliation with, other carriers of similar names and is not associated in any way with Coach USA Inc. based in Paramus, N.J.
Coach USA Tour President Lucy Shun told the Associated Press that the company would work with the DOT to address the alleged violations with the hope of resuming operations as soon as possible.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “We are committed to taking unsafe bus companies off the road. … We will take swift action against companies that ignore our federal safety regulations.”
A “Quick Strike” team of safety investigators uncovered serious regulatory violations demonstrating Coach USA Tour’s disregard for motor coach passenger safety, according to the DOT.
This is the third shutdown of a passenger carrier following the deployment earlier this month of more than 50 safety investigators targeting high-risk passenger carriers.
The probe began in April as part of the agency’s 2013 passenger carrier safety initiative, and investigators said they found that the tour company did not have safety management practices in place to ensure that drivers were submitting accurate records of duty and that they comply with maximum hours of service, as well as log itineraries and fuel records. Investigators said they found that every driver employed by Coach USA Tour had falsified at least one record-of-duty status report during a one-month review period.
Coach USA Tour’s actions resulted in drivers transporting passengers at a time when they may have been fatigued because of driving longer than the legal maximum, investigators alleged.
The company also was not in compliance with the government’s requirements for testing its employees for the use of controlled substances and alcohol, and was allowing drivers to operate passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicles before receiving negative results from pre-employment tests for controlled substances, as required by law, according to the inspectors.
The company also failed to ensure that its vehicles were properly and regularly inspected, repaired and maintained. Coach USA Tour required that its drivers maintain and repair vehicles without ensuring that the individuals were qualified bus mechanics, the inspectors said.
Individually and cumulatively, those violations substantially increased the likelihood of serious injury for its passengers, drivers and the motoring public, according to the DOT.
“I applaud our ‘Quick Strike’ safety investigation teams who are working to protect innocent lives across the country,” said safety agency Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “We are also grateful for the outstanding assistance of our state partners in New York who were instrumental in shutting down this carrier and removing their unsafe drivers and vehicles from our roadways.”
Lucy Shun said she understood some of the concerns about the paperwork but disagreed with the finding that the company failed to ensure that the buses were regularly inspected, repaired and maintained.
“The drivers are not responsible [for maintenance]; my company is,” she said by telephone. Coach USA Tour uses various repair shops to service the vehicles when needed, she said.
The federal agency makes safety data available to the traveling public through the SaferBus mobile app, which lets riders review a bus company’s safety record. The app is available for iPhone, iPad and Android phone users.
Consumers who bought a ticket on a bus company that has been placed out of service may be entitled to a credit from their credit card company under the Fair Credit Billing Act. For information, visit: www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety-security/pcs/bus-credit-refund.
According to the order, Coach USA Tour will remain out of service until it remedies the violations and must then reapply for a license. The government said that any use of the buses while the cease order is in place could result in fines and/or imprisonment.