Continuing in this efforts to better protect New Jerseyans after the tragic death of 8-month-old Angelie Parades, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today called upon U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to form a special Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) task force to address the issues surrounding independently owned and operated transit service providers, commonly referred to as "jitney" services in northern New Jersey.
The text of Senator Menendez's letter follows:
August 16, 2013
The Honorable Anthony Foxx
Secretary of Transportation
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20590
Dear Secretary Foxx:
I am writing to urge you to form a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) task force to work with local officials to make regulatory recommendations and investigate driver screening, driver training and vehicle maintenance in the jitney bus industry in Northern New Jersey.
"Jitney" is not a term used often here in Washington D.C., but in New Jersey it refers to bus or van companies who operate a small fleet of vehicles and offer regularly scheduled, discount transit service. In Hudson County and Bergen County New Jersey, while some of these operators are law abiding and responsible, other operators have had a poor reputation of safety with numerous reports of overly aggressive driving, distracted driving, and reckless driving. As a Congressman, in both TEA-21 and SAFETEA-LU, I worked hard to make vans with fewer than 15 passengers covered by commercial vehicle safety laws. But tragically, the safety of these operators has yet again become news because of a truly horrific accident that could have been avoided.
As you know, on July 30, 2013, an out-of-control jitney bus in West New York struck a lamppost, which knocked the pole onto a baby stroller and tragically killed 8-month-old Angela Paredes. The driver has been charged with death by auto, reckless driving and using a cell phone while operating a vehicle, and the FMCSA has stated that it plans to review the operations, screening and training procedures utilized by the company that owned the bus. While I welcome this scrutiny, the jitney industry in general needs more oversight.
There are currently an uncertain number of jitney buses in operation, and it is unclear whether jitney drivers have received appropriate driving and safety training. Moreover, it is apparently standard industry practice for many jitney drivers to rent vehicles from a company for the day. Because jitney drivers earn wages based on volume, this can lead to competition between jitney drivers for passengers, which potentially encourages unsafe driving.
I urge your agency to convene a task force that will crack down on jitney bus safety. This task force must use its authority to examine the hiring and training practices of the jitney industry, as well as the maintenance condition of the jitneys in operation. The task force must remove from the road those who operate such vehicles in an unsafe manner. I would further welcome any recommendations from the task force on any potential changes in federal and state law necessary to improve regulation of the jitney industry.
Local authorities in Bergen and Hudson Counties have already begun implementing an inspection program of jitneys in order to promote safe driving and proper vehicle maintenance. A federal task force can augment these efforts and provide additional resources to crack down on faulty driver training and unsafe driving practices. We should all work together to ensure that those responsible for unsafe streets are held accountable for their actions.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.