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Letter grades are coming for buses now too

Bill  proposes several new regulations for all bus companies.

Bus companies may have to learn their ABCs.

The U.S. Senate passed Sen. Charles Schumer's bus bill on Wednesday, which would require curbside buses to display safety letter grades, among other new provisions.

The legislation would affect all bus companies in the nation, like Greyhound, Megabus and Fung Wah.

Schumer proposed the legislation last year in response to a litany of fatal crashes involving discount buses, including a Bronx crash that killed 15.

"The Senate gets an 'A' for passing this crucial bill that will finally alert passengers about bus companies' safety records before they buy a ticket," Schumer said Thursday, adding that New York City's restaurant letter grading system inspired him to write the bill.

Some transportation experts applauded the legislation.

"Having more information empowers riders and customers to make the best decision for themselves," said Ya-Ting Liu, the public transit campaign manager at advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.

The Coalition of Port Authority Carriers, which includes bus carriers Adirondack Trailways and Peter Pan, also backs Schumer's bill.

Dale Moser, chief operating officer of CoachUSA, which owns Megabus, said he supports any efforts toward increasing safety but was concerned about how some aspects of the bill would be enforced, like random inspections on buses en route.

"To have buses stopped on an interstate seems like an inconvenience to customers and will certainly add time to a trip," Moser said. "It may cause customers to stop riding motorcoaches and get back into their cars."

A Schumer spokesman said this aspect of the bill was designed to target low-fare curbside carriers that do not have terminals in which to be inspected.

What's in the bill?

The bill was pushed through as part of the Surface Transportation Bill, an extensive transportation and infrastructure bill. Schumer originally proposed the legislation last year in response to numerous fatal crashes involving the discount tour bus industry.

The bill would require the Federal Motor Carriage Safety Administration to create clear and understandable safety ratings to be displayed at ticket windows, departure terminals and on each bus.

All buses would also have Electronic On-Board Recorders, which monitor drivers.

For the first time, the bill would allow federal regulators to stop buses for en route inspections, and it gives inspectors more authority to crack down on unsafe carriers.

Safety in numbers

A study last year by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed these bus industry statistics:

Curbside carriers with 10 or fewer buses and carriers who have been in business for 10 years or less have higher accident rates and higher roadside inspection violation rates.

The fatal accident rate for curbside carriers from January 2005 to March 2011 was seven times that of conventional bus operations: 1.4 fatal accidents per 100 vehicles for curbside carriers compared with 0.2 fatal accidents per 100 vehicles for conventional scheduled carriers.

Follow Emily Anne Epstein on Twitter @EmilyAEpstein

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