When motor coach driver Tulio Arias rolled onto Independence Mall from North Jersey Monday morning, he had no idea his bus would be barred from leaving the city because it was unsafe.
In the shadow of the U.S. Mint at 5th and Arch Streets, Philadelphia Police Officer Chester Hampton put Arias’ motor coach, owned by Marcus Paulo Tours, through a surprise safety inspection. In addition to a small windshield crack and lack of windshield washer fluid, came a more concerning find – a rear tire with a worn-down tread.
“Picture this vehicle on the highway doing…approximately 65-75 m.p.h., it would really be a hazard if this was to blow,” Ofc. Hampton said gesturing to the tire. “The driver might lose control of the vehicle, the tread might come off of the tire and then you have a motorist behind…where the tread is coming off and hitting their car.”
The dangerous tire forced Officer Hampton to take the bus “out of service” until the rubber could be replaced. A $197 fine was also levied against the company and a large sticker meant to notify passengers about the unsafe bus is placed on the windshield.
“Safety most important for us…my passenger’s lives, my life, also the property,” Arias said. “So everything they find we fix. It’s very, very important.”
Arais’ inspection was the first of many as part of a two-week national crackdown, launched Monday in Philadelphia, focusing on finding dangerous buses and their operators.
Called the Passenger Carrier Strike Force, local, state and federal authorities across the United States will be making surprise stops of passenger buses to uncover safety violations, take buses with improper maintenance off the road and shut down companies with a history of unsafe operations.
“This operation will not only shut down unsafe operators...but also will heighten awareness for all the companies that are carrying our most precious cargo...to be sure that they in fact are putting safety first on every trip,” said Anne Ferro of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Inspections, which take about an hour to complete, include checking for oil leaks, bad breaks and tires as well as faulty headlights and brake lights. Ferro says while buses can be pulled over at any time, the majority of the inspections will take place before the buses leave their origin point or after they arrive at their destination.
Nearly 4,000 motor coach companies handle more than 750 million passenger trips ever year across the U.S., according to the FMCSA. Ferro said while the majority of companies operate safely every day, both law enforcement and the public need to be vigilant and uncover unsafe operators.
“We have already shut down 18 bus companies that had no business being on the road. They presented an imminent hazard to the passengers we were carrying and the traveling companies,” Ferro said.
Philadelphia Police Traffic Unit Lt. Mike Anderson says while the crackdown is meant to make the inspection effort more visible, his officers are out every day inspecting both motor coaches and tractor trailers.
“It’s not that uncommon to find things to take them out of service,” he said. “When you’re traveling 3,000 miles…staying on top of things like tires and lights can be tough.”
Officials also encouraged passengers to do homework on the bus lines they’re taking.
The FMCSA launched an app called SaferBus last year that gives carriers ratings based on their violation history. Users can search for companies by their name or Department of Transportation registration number to see violations and learn whether the company is actually allowed to operate.
You can download the SaferBus app here.