National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Transportation Safety Board said that it is impossible at this time to determine what safety problems exist, if any, in our nation's transit bus systems because no organization collects accurate and timely accident data. In addition, the Board said that the federal government exerts little or no safety oversight of these systems, even though it provides about $2.5 billion a year in taxpayer subsidies.
The Board's findings were contained in a special investigation report on transit bus safety it adopted today.
Transit buses provide about 15 million passenger trips a day on about 6,000 transit bus systems in the United States. The Safety Board's study included its investigations of 4 fatal accidents involving transit buses between November 1996 and August 1998. The investigations exposed various operational deficiencies such as unqualified drivers, drivers with hazardous medical conditions, inadequate maintenance practices, and the operation of buses with mechanical defects.
The NTSB said that had these deficiencies been found during other types of bus operations, which fall under federal and State government safety regulations, sanctions could have been imposed, such as assessing fines, taking buses out of service or suspending company operations. However, the Board said, no such federal regulations are in place for transit buses, and only one of the four states in which these accidents occurred – New York – conducts some type of oversight of transit bus operations (the other states were Missouri, Washington and Tennessee).
In addition, one of the accidents highlighted a problem that appears to be growing in this country, the use of transit buses to carry children to school, without providing those children the same protections that would have been afforded them, had they been transported on regular yellow school buses. The Board has pending safety recommendations that call for the collection of accident data involving school children riding on transit buses and ensuring that these children are afforded an equivalent level of safety as children riding on school buses.
In today's report, the Board found that no government agency or industry organization collects accurate and timely accident and injury statistics for transit bus systems. For example, in 1996, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database reported 126 fatalities in transit bus collisions, 5 of whom were passengers on the buses. That same year, the Federal Transit Administration reported 83 fatalities in transit bus accidents, and it is impossible to determine how many of them were on the buses.
The Safety Board stated, "the lack of accurate and sufficient data within the transit bus industry prevents a thorough assessment of transit bus safety." It recommended that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) collect accurate, timely and sufficient data so that thorough assessments can be made relating to transit bus safety.
While the American Public Transit Association has developed a system that would improve safety plans at transit agencies, as well as driver recruitment practices for its members, the Board concluded that a model comprehensive safety program is not available for all transit bus agencies, and recommended that DOT work with the industry to develop such a model program.
The NTSB's complete report, PB98-917006, may be purchased from the National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, Virginia 22161, (703) 487-4650. The report also is available on the Board's web page, www.ntsb.gov.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.