By Calvin Studivant
Alternate vice president — Bus Department

A tragic bus accident in New York City in March, which killed 15 passengers, has put an unfriendly spotlight on low-fare tour bus drivers.

The driver of the ill-fated low-fare tour bus reportedly had previously been charged with driving on a suspended license, and it will be up to investigators to determine the facts of this accident.

What we do know is that 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

The New York Times reports 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.

In fact, reported The New York Times, the owner of the low-fare tour bus involved in the New York City accident had been cited previously by regulators for “several logbook violations.”

As proud union members, we must continue to organize the unorganized because the entire transit industry takes a hit when something goes terribly wrong.

As union drivers, we cannot be forced to violate federal hours-of-service regulations. And we can refuse to operate a bus that is unsafe without fear of losing our jobs.

It our duty as union brothers and sisters to educate fellow drivers who may think it okay when pressured to work multiple shifts without proper rest, or to operate an unsafe vehicle.

Above all, we must inform non-union drivers that the UTU negotiates good contracts with competitive wages, health care and working conditions, allowing drivers to operate within the law.

If we don’t, their faults become our faults, as we are all viewed the same by the public. We cannot afford to be looked upon that way.

The UTU has set the standards for the transit industry. We will continue to raise the bar because we represent the finest transit and school bus operators in America.