CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Just days after a Sky Express bus from Charlotte bound for New York's Chinatown neighborhood crashed along I-95 in Virginia, killing four passengers and injuring more than 50 others, other similar carriers with questionable safety records keep right on rolling.
Just before 5 p.m. at the Days Inn on West Sugar Creek Road just off Interstate 85, a plain bus pulls up beside the hotel. The driver is roused from a hotel room. A dozen or so passengers cue up, some offering quick hugs and kisses to family and friends. The bus to Chinatown is right on time.
But after this week's fatal crash of a Charlotte competitor, the ticket price has doubled overnight from $30 to $60. Eddie Weng, who takes tickets or cash from waiting passengers, says the price hike is to pay more drivers and to be more professional.
Based on recent scores and rankings by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, this particular bus line could use the help.
The only sign of the name of the company that actually runs the bus is a small sign along the side of the bus near the luggage bins. It reads "Blue Sky Bus Tours." More precise is the "MC" number -- for "motor carrier" -- MC 629846. (CLICK HERE TO SEARCH FOR YOURSELF).
By entering this into the FMCSA's online database and clicking a link at the top of the page marked SMS, you can find that Blue Sky Bus Tours ranks worse than almost 80 percent of the bus and truck lines in the country in driver fatigue and driver safety, two of the same categories for which the DOT flagged Sky Express.
"It appears to be a failure of government," said American Bus Association President Pete Pantuso.
In an age when smaller government and less intervention is a political battle cry, Pantuso's trade group is asking Congress and the DOT for more regulation and more enforcement to clear the roads of what he calls "rogue companies."
He supports more inspectors saying, "We need to know when they see a company with an egregious safety record that they get the ability to shut them down sooner rather than later."
A day after this week's fatal crash in Virginia, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood had to admit his department was preparing to shut down Sky Express for repeated safety violations, including driver fatigue and drivers unable to speak English, only to grant the bus line a 10-day extension during which the bus crashed, killing four women. LaHood issued a statement saying he would put an end to extensions "on my watch."
Passengers can review the safety record of bus lines in the public database online. But even if they want to know that record, it's not easy to check it out. That's because passengers may never know the name of the bus company because they don't buy tickets directly from the bus company. Instead they get tickets online from any of a number of websites with names like I95coach or Gotobus or Apexbus.
The NewsChannel 36 I-Team found that all three websites point potential customers to the same location at 1408 West Sugar Creek and the same departure time for the afternoon bus to Chinatown.
Both the American Bus Association and the secretary of transportation say they will push Congress for more enforcement after this week's deadly crash. But as for public awareness, Pantuso warns, "If you don't know who you're booking with, that maybe a caution sign right from the get go."