[UPDATE BELOW] On Friday, a BoltBus headed to Boston from New York City burst into flames on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Though the driver pulled over and managed to evacuate everyone before it exploded, one passenger tells us the trouble began long before the first flame ignited.
Disaster was portended promptly at the start of the trip, passenger Ariel Shapiro tells us, with the driver announcing that the temperature could not be controlled because "it's an old bus," helpfully advising anyone cold to "grab a sweater."
Ignoring the touchy thermostat apparently did not solve the rickety bus's problems, since a beeping noise prompted the driver to pull into a Connecticut gas station to have it serviced around two hours into the trip. The driver, Shapiro tells us, appeared totally "nonchalant," eating her lunch and laughing about the delay—adding, as an aside, that her hand had been on the emergency brake the whole time. "I go to talk to her, and she is so relaxed about everything—very optimistic, and kind of jokey about the fact that the fan was broken," before casually mentioning the detail about the brake.
What does that mean? Had the driver had the brake pulled while the bus was in motion? Was she sufficiently concerned that she'd kept her hand in a mindful hover over the brake until finally deciding it was time to stop? Shapiro was unsure.
Concerned she would miss her event in Boston, Shapiro called BoltBus, who declined to send another vehicle but, after talking to the driver, assured Shapiro that the beeping, A/C-less bus would be ready in just 10 minutes. And it was!
Bolt Bus on fire - Mass pike. #boltbus
A video posted by Max Eriksson (@maxebear) on
The passengers shuffled back on board, and all was well for about an hour—until the beeping returned. This time, Shapiro, who was seated at the back of the bus, noticed a suspicious smell, which she optimistically attributed to the nearby restroom.
After a few more minutes, the driver pulled to the side of the road and turned off the engine—"I even find it casual enough to laugh that this was the worst bus ride ever," Shapiro recalled. That's when she saw the smoke, billowing from the back, and shouted that the bus was on fire. (She adds that she later saw videos indicating the bus had been smoking for some time before pulling over.)
With the flames now clearly visible, passengers made their way off the bus, with no procedural explanation from the driver. Here's what Shapiro wrote:
At no time were the emergency windows opened or any instructions given. We see now that the back of the bus is completely on fire. Flames are coming past the back windows. We--way too slowly--evacuate and once out of the bus we run. With no idea of how far to go. Some make it to the bridge. Some people are trying to jump fences. Others are staying what seemed to be too dangerously close to the flames. Smoke is now billowing out into a grey stack above. Within a couple of minutes of evacuation, the windows blasted out. The seats, I've now seen in pictures, obliterated.
Shapiro missed her event in Boston, but is relieved and grateful that she and everyone else is alive. BoltBus, however, doesn't seem overly concerned with its bus literally exploding on the side of a Massachusetts turnpike. On Tuesday, a still-shaken Shapiro wrote the following email:
I was on the 11am bus yesterday from NY to Boston. Not only did I miss my reason for going to Boston, but my life was jeopardized and it was poorly handled in several regards.
I obviously have concerns and questions. My experience makes me question BoltBus as a company and my overall view towards buses as a mode of transportation. What is BoltBus's take on what happened?
Additionally, I would like to know the plans moving forward, addressing the safety issues with the buses as well as the personal trauma endured by the passengers.
A few hours later, she received the following reply from Bill Revere, the company's Director of Operations. (Bolding ours):
I’m very sorry that you had to experience the event that occurred on your trip yesterday to Boston traveling on Boltbus. I assure you Boltbus takes safety very seriously. Boltbus has a standing Satisfactory safety rating with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
We are currently working with the Massachusetts State Police & MDOT to determine the cause of the fire. We are going to hire a third party forensic fire investigation team to determine the cause of the incident as well. This will help all bus carriers in the future to identify risks.
I checked to see if you are a loyalty member and I did not see your name on the list. If you like, you can join our reward program and I would like to offer you a couple of round trips.
Please let me know if you join and again I’m very sorry you had to experience that incident yesterday and glad you are safe.
Understandably distressed, Shapiro has thought about taking legal action, though the lack of physical injuries means that might not be an option. The police have not yet responded to her inquiries, and Massachusetts DOT offered only that "safety investigations would be conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)."
"As of now, it seems like it was a freak accident, but I believe it was absolutely preventable and mishandled in many irresponsibly reckless ways," Shapiro said.
"I take BoltBus, I take Greyhound, I've traveled all over South America, so I'm very comfortable with uncertain buses —this was really really another level," she said, adding that she won't be taking BoltBus again in the future.
Is there any mode of transit she feels safe taking these days?
"Hitchhiking?" she offered. "I really don't know what's left here."
Update, 4:10 p.m.:
Greyhound, which operates BoltBus, responded with the following statement:
The cause of the incident has not yet been determined and is still under investigation. We are currently looking into exactly what happened. Every passenger who has reached out to use received a call from a manager explaining what happened, what actions we have taken and what we are doing moving forward.