As the UTU continues to lobby safety regulators and Congress on the need for bus-operator fatigue abatement, improved driver training and tougher bus-safety inspections, tragic events are placing even more emphasis on this topic.

Since January, according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, 32 have been killed in 17 separate bus accidents, and 323 injured. The death and injury toll already has eclipsed the 30 killed and 272 injured during all of 2010.

As the UTU Bus Department and National Legislative Office have informed safety regulators and Congress, many low-fare tour bus companies that are non-union force their drivers to work under horrendous conditions at low pay — and often with little sleep.

It is common for non-union drivers employed by low-fare tour-bus firms to sleep in their coaches between driving assignments. Many of these bus companies have been cited for safety violations, yet they continue to operate.

The New York Times has reported that low-fare tour buses transport millions of passengers annually and regulators rely on handwritten logbooks to determine if drivers are working with insufficient rest. An official of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety called the logs “comic books” and alleged they are often falsified or not filled in at all.

The UTU continues to reach out to unorganized bus operators, informing them that under UTU contracts, our members cannot be forced to violate federal hours-of-service regulations, and can refuse to operate unsafe buses without fear of losing their jobs.
Some states have stepped up safety enforcement. In New York, the state’s transportation commissioner told the Associated Press that since March, more than 3,000 surprise bus inspections were made, resulting in 304 drivers and 238 buses taken out of service.

WASHINGTON – The Republican leadership of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee will introduce legislation July 8 to slash Amtrak’s federal subsidy by 25 percent, prevent federal funds from being used to create additional rail passenger services unless they are high-speed projects, and cut federal transit funding by 30 percent.

Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), and Rail Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) have previously made known their dislike for Amtrak and intention to destroy the national intercity rail passenger network through funding cuts and privatization of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

The senior Democrat on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, put the Mica/Shuster legislation in perspective: “The bill, as we have seen so far, cannot pass the [Democratic-controlled Senate].”

Opposition to the bill also is being voiced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has joined with the AFL-CIO to lobby against it. The UTU’s National Legislative Office already is working with members in the House and Senate against Amtrak and transit funding cuts.

Amtrak funding has previously and regularly been in the crosshairs of its detractors, and another tough fight is brewing. On Amtrak’s — and transit’s — side are tens of millions of Americans who continue to make clear to their elected congressional lawmakers that they want more, not less, rail passenger and transit service.

The proposed cuts for Amtrak and transit are contained in a six-year bill entitled, “The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU.” Senate Democratic leaders are pushing for a two-year bill that would be more generous toward Amtrak and transit – although at lower spending levels than sought by the Obama administration.

The House bill would also extend the deadline beyond 2015 for implementation of positive train control (PTC).

The bill also would remove a federal requirement that states use Highway Trust Fund revenue for non-highway transportation purposes, such as mass transit; but would allow states to make such decisions unilaterally.

There are, however, provisions in the House bill that have been sought by the UTU – and those provisions are expected to survive. They include:

  • Increasing a low-interest loan program for state transportation projects.
  • Encouraging states to create and capitalize state infrastructure banks to provide loans for transportation projects.
  • Improving transit options for the elderly and disabled.
  • Insulating motor carrier safety programs from any spending cuts.
  • Requiring federal regulators to keep unsafe buses off the road.
  • Improving access to the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program; and making high-speed rail projects eligible for RRIF loans.
  • Strengthening the rail transit safety oversight program.
  • Establishing annual inspection programs for buses.
  • Requiring regulations to establish minimum training requirements for commercial drivers.

WASHINGTON – Increased authority for random safety inspections of tour buses and money for more safety inspectors received a lukewarm reception by the Republican leadership of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee June 14 following the request by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Administrator Anne Ferro.

The committee hearing was called in the wake of recent high-profile tour-bus accidents — one in New York that killed 15, and another in Virginia resulting in four dead. Since January, there have been six serious bus accidents that killed a total of 25, Ferro said. She also is seeking an increase in the maximum fine from $2,000 to $25,000 for bus safety violations.

Under existing federal law, intercity buses may be inspected only at their point of origin or destination; but not enroute unless police see an expired safety sticker.

“The last thing I want to see on an interstate highway is a bus inspection and passengers unloaded,” said the committee’s chairman, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who also was cool to a request for $50 million to hire additional FMCSA safety inspectors.

Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) said, “I hope we don’t go overboard in reaction to a couple of bad operators.”

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Nick Rahall of West Virginia, said, “Unsafe bus companies have no business operating on our roads and putting the traveling public at risk.”

A Houston, Texas, transportation official, David Palmer, expressed concern over so-called “curbside” intercity bus companies that, after being shut down by the FMCSA for safety violations, change their name and pick-up passengers from different locations. Such firms typically advertise their services on the Internet or on printed flyers that are circulated. He said those operators are skillful at avoiding origin and destination safety inspections.

The committee was told that there has been an explosion in the number of curbside bus companies that transport passengers directly from one city to another at low fares. Many of those operators are said to hire drivers with minimal training, limited knowledge of English, and who often drive without sufficient rest, while the buses they drive sometimes do not meet federal safety standards.

Few states put a priority on bus-safety inspections, and increased federal authority is required, witnesses told the committee

The president of the American Bus Association, Pete Pantuso, told the committee, “We see a lot of [states] that just don’t put enough emphasis on bus inspections. We’ve got to get [the unsafe buses] off the highway.”

Pantuso said half the deaths resulting from intercity bus accidents involve carriers and/or drivers in violation of federal motor carrier safety standards.

WASHINGTON — Observing that her five-year-old soccer-mom van contains safety technology more advanced than is integrated into many motor coaches, National Transportation Safety Board Chairperson Deborah Hersman March 30 chided Congress and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for dragging their feet on bus safety legislation and regulation.

Hersman testified before the Senate Transportation Subcommittee that available technology, if installed on motor coaches, could prevent many accidents and save many more lives. NTSB recommendations to this end have been ignored by Congress and federal regulators for years, Hersman said.

Safety advocate Joan Claybrook, who previously chaired the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told the subcommittee that the safety improvements advocated by the NTSB could be installed at the cost of five cents per bus ticket, based on annual bus ridership of about 750 million passengers.

Bus industry executives have been fighting for years to block mandated safety improvements, such as stronger roofs that won’t shear off or crush in accidents, and stronger windows, complaining the cost is too great.

Technology — such as electronic stability control to help prevent rollovers, cruise control that adjusts a vehicle’s speed to traffic conditions, and exits making it easier for passengers to escape after accidents — are examples of technology that exist “and it’s important that it be applied to the vehicles most in need of it,” Hersman testified.

The only safety improvements for motor coaches in the process of being mandated by the federal government are bans on texting while driving, the use of cellphones, installation of on-board recorders and installation of passenger seat belts — and even those rules have not be made final by regulators, the subcommittee was told.

The Department of Transportation testified that its attempt at requiring tougher driving training and testing standards have been challenged and blocked by courts. It has been more than six years since the DOT set out to redraft such rules.

Legislation was introduced in the Senate earlier this month to require much of what the NSTB advocates; but previous attempts as passage of similar legislation failed to gain sufficient votes in Congress.

To read more about that legislation, click on the following link:

By Rich Deiser
Vice President, Bus Department

During my six months as Bus Department vice president, I have done my absolute best to meet many of you, and I look forward to getting to know more of you in 2010. I still have a lot to learn and look to you for guidance.

Hopefully many of you will attend a regional meeting for training and fraternity.

During 2009, we experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, but that is the nature of labor/management relations in these troubling times. I’m encouraged that 2010 will bring an upturn in the economy and our devotion to duty will be recognized more favorably.

No UTU International officer can succeed on their own, and I thank everyone involved in this huge, cooperative effort — especially Mike Futhey, Arty Martin, Kim Thompson and my alternates, Calvin Studivant and Bonnie Morr, for making this an administration of which we all can be proud.

I could not ask for a better assistant than Cara McGinty at the UTU International office, who regularly accomplishes the impossible. The Legal Department always provides sound advice. All the staff at the UTU International go out of their way to be helpful, and make one feel that we are all part of a large union family striving to help each other.

If you have questions on bus safety, please pass them along. I will do my best to have them answered.

Later this year, the UTU News will feature photos of men and women in armed forces uniform. Please send those photos to the Public Relations Department in Cleveland at “” 

By Vic Baffoni,

Vice President, Bus

The safety of our members in the work place has been — and will always be — a priority of this union and its officers.

More and more, we are experiencing passenger assaults on drivers. Any environment where a bus operator fears for his or her safety is equally dangerous for riders and traffic sharing the highway, because when coach operators must concern themselves with possible assaults, they cannot fully concentrate on safe driving.

Some agencies are providing enclosures for drivers. In Washington, D.C., for example, where the number of assaults on bus drivers has tripled since 2002, a clear, plastic shield is being inserted between the driver’s seat and the fare box. Also, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is experimenting with an enclosure.

While some enclosures being tested protect drivers from assaults, they may block the escape route for the driver and/or passengers in the event of a collision. Protective enclosures should permit the driver to exit the bus quickly and without impeding the escape of passengers. We urge also that protective shields be manually operated and not be connected to the front frame of the coach, as such construction could cause the shield to collapse into or onto the driver in a front-end collision.

Driver safety is one of many issues I am discussing with local officers and members.

Recently, I visited locals 710 and 759 in Newark, N.J.; Local 1496 in Riverside, Calif.; Local 1584 in Lancaster, Calif.; Local 1589 in New Brunswick, N.J.; Local 1741 in San Francisco; and Local 1785 in Santa Monica, Calif. In these meetings, we also discussed their members’ concerns regarding the union. I am very impressed with the leadership of the locals and their desire to serve their memberships.

Finally, congratulations to General Chairperson Nelson Manzano and his committee in negotiating an excellent contract for members on the Red and Tan Lines in northern New Jersey.

By Bonnie Morr
Alternate Vice President, Bus

When operating a motor coach — whether carrying students, commuters, tourists or the handicapped – whenever we open the door, we are exposed to assaults.

We are vulnerable to what we do see, and what we cannot see, such as the sneezing, wheezing and coughing passengers spreading illness.

Many of us are versed in “talking down” aggressive and sometimes out-of-control passengers. The federal government and states are toughening penalties for violent acts against transportation workers, and many employers are taking additional steps to protect bus operators, such as by installing video cameras in terminals and on buses.

On page 11 of this issue, our union’s medical consultant, Dr. Norman Brown, explains how to protect ourselves against one dangerous micro-organism called MRSA.

A benefit of being a union member is that from the local level to the International, we have qualified officers and staff working each day to help improve workplace safety. For example, to the right of this column is an article and photo showing the success of the UTU in having notices posted in Coach USA buses in New Jersey warning of severe penalties for assaulting bus operators.

If you have ideas about further protecting the safety and health of bus operators, share them with your local officers, and also with Bus Department Vice President Vic Baffoni at the UTU International in Cleveland, whose e-mail address is