LIVINGSTON, NJ - The Alternative Press recently received tips from commuters on the Community Coach 77 bus line that bus drivers have been engaging in unsafe practices while vehicles are in motion.
One concerned commuter, who takes Community Coach line 77 from Livingston to New York daily writes, “I recently stopped a bus driver from dialing his Blackberry while driving. On many occasions, I have observed drivers counting the tickets and money while the vehicle is in motion, even when entering the Lincoln Tunnel on the evening commute.” The commuter captured images and video of the incidents on his smartphone that he provided to The Alternative Press.
This individual, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that he contacted Community Coach, hoping to be reassured that the issue would be addressed. “I politely told them about my safety concern. The reaction I got from the person on the phone was a dismissive ‘okay.’ That was it.”
When questioned further about the unsafe practices, a spokesperson for Community Coach dismissed the inquiry and said the organization would not comment and “does not have a responsibility to say anything to anyone but customers.”
Coach USA is a subsidiary of the Stagecoach Group. Stagecoach is one of the world's largest bus, coach and rail groups with operations in the United Kingdom and North America. Although a member of the Coach USA family, Community Coach is independently managed and operated.
Regarding commuter safety, the organization’s website, http://www.coachusa.com/community/, says, “Community Coach provides its customers with efficient, safe, and courteous motorcoach service…Motorcoach and bus travel is one of the safest modes of transportation. We take the safety of our passengers seriously.”
Futhermore, the site states: “Our safety department ensures that only the most qualified drivers are permitted behind the wheel. Drivers are required to complete extensive driver training courses and are subject to random drug and alcohol testing and periodic safety refresher classes. Many of our operators have driven over a million accident-free miles.”
There is a large gray area in the regulation of privately owned commuter transportation. According to a spokesperson from NJ Transit, the organization has “no regulatory oversight over privately operated bus companies.”
The legal ramifications are vague, as well. Assembly Bill No. 407 prohibits the use of wireless telephones or electronic communication devices by operators of public transit vehicles while vehicles are moving.
A violation of this law is considered a disorderly persons offense, which is punishable by a fine not exceeding $1,000, imprisonment for up to 6 months, or both. However, this law holds only for operators of public transit.
Tom Lynch, Chief of Staff for Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. of NJ District 18 says that there is very little nexus between state government and private bus companies. Diegnan sponsored Assembly Bill No. 407, which was signed into law in January 2011.
“The recommendation is that if an individual observes a distracted driver, they should file a complaint with their local police department as it is a violation of a motor vehicle offense,” Lynch advises.
New Jersey's hands-free law was enacted in 2004 by amending P.L 2003,c.310 and was updated in 2007 to make it a primary enforcement violation. The New Jersey cell phone law establishes a fine of $100 for the use of a hand-held wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle.