How safe is a charter bus company?

August 11, 2008 5:21:28 PM PDT
The recent tragedy involving a charter bus from Houston has left a lot of unanswered questions, including how you can tell if a charter service is safe.Before you get on a charter bus you should check with a federal database that tracks the safety rating for every charter bus line. The site can help you decide if the bus ride is worth taking.

The problem with charter buses is often you cannot tell from the outside how safe the bus is on the inside. Lanny Rogers of First Class Charter Tours has been operating buses for decades, and he says consumers need to know how to find some very important information before getting on board a charter bus.

"(The website) tells customers how to check for insurance, how to check the DOT rating, how to check their record," Rogers explained.

It turns out you can find the answers to those three questions very easily. The website run by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration lists the safety rating for every charter bus company in the nation.

A quick check of a Houston zip code shows dozens of local charter operators and a simple rating. Angel Tours -- the bus company involved in the deadly accident last week -- is currently listed as unsatisfactory. A closer look reveals ratings three and four times the national standard. The unlicensed bus operated by Angel Tours was doing business under the name Iguala Bus Mex. It does not appear anywhere on the safety rating site.

"It's more than just a superficial glance," said Dan Parsons with the Houston Better Business Bureau. "We are one of maybe a minor source."

Parsons says the federal site is a good tool for anyone thinking of renting or riding in a charter bus. The BBB did list Angel Tours in its directory and had given it a satisfactory rating before the crash. However, Iguala Bus Mex was not listed at all.

Parsons said, "Why he didn't share that with us -- that, frankly, makes us suspicious. Why do you create another DBA that appears to have marketability and not tell us?"

There are other things riders can look for before getting on a bus. Take a look to see that the tires don't show obvious signs of wear. Also, check exit doors, to make sure they open.

If the interior of the bus seems dirty, that's a warning sign that the company may be cutting corners. Finally, if you have compared the price of three charters and one seems really low, that, too, can be an indicator not all the safety measures are being taken. Remember, it is very expensive to run these buses.

You can find a link to the website listing charter bus safety ratings on the consumer blog.

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