After the bus crash that killed 15 in the Bronx on Saturday and the crash that killed two in NJ on Monday, lawmakers are becoming more and more concerned with the cheap buses that ferry people from Chinatown to various points on the East Coast. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have now co-sponsored a bill that would require bus drivers to receive training. That's right, as NY1 reports, "Currently, federal regulations do not require drivers to have training."

Gillibrand said, "The legislation would require commercial bus drivers nationwide to complete a rigid training program," and the Daily News reports, "The legislation would dovetail the proposed Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act requiring buses to have safety belts and reinforced windows and roofs." Yesterday, the NYPD cracked down on some Chinatown buses, taking six off the road (including one from World Wide Tours, the operator of the bus involved in the Bronx crash).

The NY Times looks at the schedules of bus drivers, noting, "Federal guidelines limit passenger-bus drivers to 10 hours behind the wheel, within a 15-hour work day, and bus carriers face a fine if violations are discovered. But the hours, recorded in a handwritten logbook, are easily falsified, and even outstanding violations are often ignored: World Wide Travel, the operator whose bus crashed in the Bronx, had been cited several times by regulators for problems with its logs." And one tour guide who hires bus drivers tells us:

They all face similar economic pressures (rapidly rising insurance rates and fuel costs chief among them) and all tend to cut the same corners. Drivers accept bizarre working hours as normal and often catch most of their sleep on the bus. Federal regulations limit the amount of time a driver can spend at the wheel on trips that cross state lines; drivers are required to keep a detailed log. But this only counts time spent with passengers on the bus, and the clock is reset once drivers have a "rest period" of 4 hours or more. The driver on the Mohegan Sun trip got his "rest" in the parking lot. He might have used part of it eating dinner, and who is really alert at 5:00 in the morning?

I was once chatting with a driver who had brought a group on a day trip to New York from New England. The itinerary did give him five hours "off," but he had to use this time to find a parking space and eat lunch, catch a nap, and get back to the group at the agreed time. He had a similar job the next day and, by the time he got "my" group home, returned the bus to the depot, cleaned and re-fueled the vehicle, he had only four or five hours before heading out again. So he planned to sleep on the bus.

I need to stress that that drivers, who are not well-paid, love this system, which maximizes their earnings, and the owners, who face intense price competition, resist any regulation that would drive up costs. Worldwide must pay for its sins, but the entire industry must be called to account. It was radically deregulated during the Reagan administration, and the victims in the Bronx are the latest of many who have paid for its excesses. More strict regulation is essential.

Mohegan Sun, the Connecticut casino the Bronx bus was headed from, actually has a lounge for bus drivers to relax. One bus driver who said he appreciated the room because it's hard to stay in the bus ("in the wintertime, it’s too cold, and in the summertime, it’s too hot") added that his aunt and uncle were killed in the crash, "I keep telling myself every day now, be more alert, be more careful, because of my aunt and uncle, what happened to them."