|WASHINGTON – The General
Accounting Office (GAO) has issued a new report indicating that hundreds
of truck and bus companies – many of them in Texas – which have been ordered
to shut down are still operating, often by using different names.
A study by the GAO,
quoted in a July 30 story by the Associated Press, found that at least
20 of the 220 or more commercial bus companies which had been ordered closed
for federal safety violations were still operating under different names.
The tactic is the same
used by a company whose bus carrying a Catholic group near Dallas last
year blew a retreaded tire and crashed, killing 17 people.
The GAO report mentioned
offenders in nine states, including Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, California,
Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, New York and Washington. The violators
owe thousands of dollars in delinquent fines and have been charged with
numerous violations, ranging from driver/operators being unlicensed or
failure to test drivers for drug and alcohol use.
More than 1,000 commercial
trucking firms are also believed to be violators operating under new names,
the GAO report notes. Many of the violators are still using the same address,
owner name and contact number, the study indicated.
"These companies pose
a safety threat to the motoring public," wrote Greg Kutz, GAO's managing
director for special investigations, noting that there were about 300 fatalities
from bus crashes last year. "We believe that these carriers reincarnated
into new companies to evade fines and avoid performing the necessary corrective
The GAO said the agency
with oversight over the problem, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Adminstration,
did not have computer capability to correctly enforce the regulations,
and noted that there is some ambiguity over whether states have enforcement
rights as well.
In the Texas crash,
Iguala BusMex Inc. of Houston had received a Transportation Department
number and was awaiting approval for a federal license when one of its
buses crashed near Sherman on Aug. 8, 2008.
The company was run
by Angel de la Torre, who operated Angel Tours Inc., which was forced to
take its vehicles out of interstate service just two months earlier after
an unsatisfactory review by federal regulators.
The GAO report also
noted that after a Texas bus company which was fined in October 2006 for
driving an unsafe vehicle, it was found illegally transporting 33 passengers
from Mexico into the U.S. and was fined again.
Within a month, a new
company opened with two of the same drivers, three of the same vehicles,
the same last name for the company owner and virtually identical addresses.
The new firm operated for 18 months before it was cited for drug testing
violations in September 2008 and it was ordered out of service last month.