Bus lines under greater scrutiny

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Wednesday, the bus driver charged in May's fatal accident in Caroline County is due in court. A trial date is expected to be set during the hearing which begins at 1:00 p.m.

Kin Yiu Cheung is facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter after the Sky Express bus he was driving overturned, killing four women and injuring dozens of other people. Driver fatigue has been blamed for the crash. That tragedy exposed a long history of federal safety violations against the North Carolina-based company, Sky Express.

But we wanted to know if there are any locally based tour lines that also have violations?

It's a recent Friday afternoon, and James Massenburg is a little nervous about the next several hours.

"If I hold on, I'll make it there!" he said.

James has never been on a discount, or so-called "China Bus" before; which offers a cheap $15 ticket to New York, arriving just after midnight.

"I brought a couple Red Bulls just in case the driver needs one," said Massenburg.

His concerns are not unfounded. Bus lines have come under greater scrutiny since the May 31st crash in Caroline County that killed four people and injured dozens more.

The crash was blamed on driver fatigue, one of several human and mechanical categories on which the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration grades all commercial bus lines, discount or otherwise.

The findings are part of the FMCSA's web site, which is searchable by state. So, we selected Virginia. And we found speeding violations against Platinum Tours, based in Hanover County.

We also found a violation for Team Coach in Richmond, for not having a drug & alcohol policy in place...a violation that was quickly corrected.

There was also a drug and alcohol policy violation against Spirit Tours in Henrico...where owner Robyn Winston is skeptical of the system.

"And so you can't just take everything that's in the database at face value," she said.

Robyn's driver wasn't given a standard drug test following an incident last year that, eventually, was thrown out of court. She's certain the little icon has cost her some business, because it's still listed there on the screen for the public to see.

However, checking safety information gets complicated when a company that has a local office is actually headquartered in another state.

For example, the discount Eastern Travel line uses a North Boulevard storefront. But it's owned by a company in New York, which could be confusing for passengers who assume it operates in Virginia. Furthermore, discount lines often involve multiple names.

At Apex Bus in Henrico, for example, there also are signs for Anytime Bus, and NY City bus.com. Robyn says that makes it difficult for the public to keep up.

"I do feel that, sometimes, when you play by the rules you kinda get burned a little bit. But that doesn't mean that you still shouldn't play by the rules," said Winston.

Inspectors found no violations at nationally recognized James River Bus Lines in Richmond, run by Stephen Story. With 88 vehicles and about 100 drivers, prepping for inspections -in the garage, and on the road- are a full time responsibility, now...more than ever.

"The difficulty is you want to be perfect, because we've got lives at stake," Story said.

Violations stay on the Feds' web site for a period of two years, and are not intended to be the only factor in judging the safety of a carrier. And even the ones with alerts are authorized to be on the roads.

If you'd like to search the database yourself, click here.

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