ALBANY, N.Y. — A little noticed, relatively inexpensive item in New York's massive state budget could be a life saver.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature found $1 million in a nearly flat budget to change the way buses are inspected in New York following a bloody year on the road.
The new program will change the custom of inspecting every bus several times a year to a performance based system in which the companies with the worst safety records will see a greater share of inspections. All companies will still get at least two inspections a year, even those with top safety records.
"This increased enforcement and manpower will enhance the states' ability to crack down on bus companies that may be putting passengers at risk," Cuomo told The Associated Press.
The state Department of Transportation does 160,000 scheduled inspections of buses each year, but Cuomo had stepped that up and added unannounced inspections following a spate of fatal crashes last year.
In July, Cuomo suspended the operating licenses of eight charter and tour bus companies and their 100 buses after they repeatedly failed safety inspections. The Cuomo administration said the companies each failed three or more roadside inspections of buses or drivers in the previous six months.
On March 12, 15 people were killed on a bus returning to New York City from a Connecticut casino, leading off a string of fatal bus crashes, including one in upstate New York that killed a truck driver and injured 30 bus passengers on July 22.
The state Department of Transportation made 2,000 surprise roadside inspections in the spring, and state police issued 197 tickets; 173 bus drivers and 143 buses were taken off the road. In April 2010, nearly 100 buses and more than 100 bus drivers were removed from the road in surprise inspections. Some drivers had multiple licenses under aliases and criminal records.
Spring and summer are peak times for college students and tourists to travel by bus. Last month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration unveiled an application for iPhones and iPads through which consumers can review a bus company's safety record before they buy tickets.
The SaferBus app is free to download from the Apple iTunes App Stores or by going to federal administration's "Look Before You Book" website at www.fmcsa.dot.gov/saferbus .