The scene of a deadly crash on the southbound New...

The scene of a deadly crash on the southbound New England Thruway at the Hutchinson Parkway where a tour bus overturned, leaving 15 people dead and several badly hurt, authorities said. (March 12, 2011) Credit: James Carbone

Privately operated curbside buses -- like the one in the horrific Bronx crash that killed 15 and injured 18 in March -- are seven times more likely to be in a fatal accident than other interstate buses, a National Transportation Safety Board report released Monday says.

The fatal accident rate for bus companies that pick up and drop off passengers at curbside was 1.4 per 100 vehicles, compared with 0.2 per 100 vehicles for traditional carriers that operate out of terminals such as the Port Authority bus terminal, the NTSB found. That rate comes from crashes from January 2005 to March.

The safety board conducted the study at the request of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn) following the March 12 crash on I-95.

Schumer, in an interview, said regulation hasn't kept up with the mushrooming of cheap curbside carriers. "It's an area that cries out for safety rules where there are virtually none," he said.

The bus returning from the Mohegan Sun casino to Chinatown in Manhattan veered off the roadway, turned onto its side and slid nearly 500 feet before crashing into the metal support poles of an exit sign -- shearing the bus in two.

The driver, Ophadell Williams, 40, of Brooklyn, pleaded not guilty Sept. 1 to multiple charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless driving. Prosecutors say he was badly sleep-deprived but drove anyway; he also should not have been driving because of several outstanding traffic tickets. The bus operator, identified in the study as World Wide Travel, was shut down for safety violations.

Of 4,172 interstate bus operators in the nation, the NTSB identified 71 as offering curbside service. New York State has 25 motor coach operators, with 14 offering curbside service.

The NTSB did not list the names of the bus companies in its study.

"The safety record of individual curbside carriers varies, with some carriers having very good safety records and others having worse safety records," the NTSB report says.

Monday, some passengers said saving a few bucks is not worth putting themselves at greater risk, while others said they will continue to patronize such services.

At I95 Coach on Chrystie Street in Manhattan, Carmelo Rodriguez, 37, of Orlando, and his 2-year-old son were waiting for a ride after an 18-hour bus journey from Florida. The one-way trip cost $90 a person.

"The money is definitely not worth it," Rodriguez said. "Next time I'll go with Greyhound."

Nearby, at the Fung Wah bus window on Canal Street, passengers waiting for the Boston bus shrugged off the news.

Karin Lewis, 25, who travels frequently, said she saves $20 round-trip from what she would pay Greyhound on every trip. "I still feel comfortable taking the [curbside] bus," she said. "It all depends on the driver."

Accidents can happen on any vehicle, no matter how low or high the price. Either way, there's a risk."

A lack of inspectors at the federal and state levels is part of the enforcement problem, the NTSB says. There are 878 Federal Motor Coach Safety Association and state inspectors for more than 765,000 private bus companies. That leaves each employee, who usually needs two weeks to do a safety inspection, with almost 1,000 companies to keep track of annually.

With the federal government facing a budget deficit, Schumer said hiring more inspectors is out of the question.

He said he will ask the U.S. Department of Transportation to grade interstate bus operators from "A" to "D" on their safety records. He wants the letter grade posted on each bus, as well as on the websites of online brokers that sell tickets.If the bus companies and ticket brokers are forced to disclose a company's safety record, Schumer said, consumers can choose the ones with the better safety records.

The NTSB's findings made a difference to Steffi Valerie, 27. She was waiting Monday outside a storefront for a 5 p.m. Lucky Star Bus to take her home to Boston. The trip cost her $15.

She said she will change her habits. "Definitely, if that's accurate," she said of the study's findings. "That's scary."

The National Transportation Safety Board on curbside buses found:

rivately operated curbside buses are seven times more likely to be in a fatal accident than companies that run operations from terminals.

Smaller operators -- in business 10 years or less -- have a higher accident rate.

Drivers working for curbside operators were cited more often for fatigue.

Safety records of curbside operators are not available to passengers and the records are difficult to understand.

Only 878 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and state regulators are responsible for compliance reviews of more than 765,000 carriers nationwide.

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