Congress to reign in rogue bus operators

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WWBT) - In Washington, members of the motor coach industry forced to answer tough questions about a recent rash of fatal bus crashes. Among those tragedies, the Sky- Express crash on I-95 that killed four people.

Lawmakers asked the industry leaders, "If Sky-Express had never been able to open in the first place, would those four people still be alive?"

Their answer? Yes.

Both members of Congress and leaders of the motor coach industry believe everyone would be better off if questionable companies like Sky-Express were never allowed to operate in the first place.

As soon as their bus flipped over on I-95, the questions started.

Who is this company?

Who is the driver?

And should they be in business at all?

On Capitol Hill the consensus was that Sky-Express had no business being on the road.

"Passengers boarding Sky-Express had absolutely no idea the dangerous risk they faced choosing that carrier," said Jacqueline Gillan, the Vice President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

These new, shadowy companies operating with little oversight or background is a new phenomenon. It wasn't long ago that there were only a few, major bus companies that people could rely on. But now companies like sky express are popping up overnight and that has congress worried.

"I always wondered how in the heck someone for 25 bucks could afford to get from Richmond to New York," said Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia). "Well I think we are seeing why they could get there. These companies have not been up to snuff on their operators and in terms of their safety."

The American Bus Association represents more than 60% of the motor coach companies on the road today. According to their CEO Peter Pantuso, a good place to start when looking into a reputable business is their headquarters.

"The company that had the accident in Virginia was based in North Carolina," said Pantuso. "But they were based in a housing development; there was no sign of that bus or buses at that facility or that house."

A small step that could lead to major changes in the way bus companies operate. They are changes that could one day lead to safer American roads.

And while there is certainly agreement that something has to be done, there is still quite a bit of haggling over just how much. Democrats are prepared to stiffen regulations immediately, while republicans are concerned that too much regulation will hurt companies already abiding by the rules.

Despite the rash in fatal accidents, bus travel remains relatively safe. A recent study by the national safety council revealed that bus travel was 20 times safer than traveling in a car.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.