State lawmakers hope to empower local government to inspect tour buses, in the wake of a startling Union Square tour bus crash that injured 20 people.
Assemblyman Phil Ting announced a new bill to strengthen inspections of tour buses statewide, Wednesday. If signed into law, the bill would allow local lawmakers to create city tour bus inspection programs, in partnership with the California Highway Patrol.
Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) co-authored the bill.
Ting, who made the announcement on the steps of San Francisco City Hall Wednesday morning, said the program would supplement annual state inspections of tour buses, not replace them.
“All you have to do is read the news every day to see a tour bus is running over a pedestrian,” Ting said at the steps of City Hall, adding, “sometimes it’s fatal.”
Ting was referring to 82-year-old Pieter Roell, who was struck and killed by a tour bus in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood Saturday, as well as the death of a City Hall staffer struck and killed by a tour bus in 2014.
Roell’s death was The City’s first pedestrian death in 2016, advocacy group Walk SF told the Examiner.
According to Ting’s office, the tour bus inspection bill, Assembly Bill 1677, does not require local jurisdictions to create their own inspection programs. Instead, it allows them the choice to create such a program.
Supervisor Jane Kim said following passage of the bill, she would spearhead local tour bus inspections in San Francisco.
“I’ll be leading a legislative initiative,” Kim said, “Every single one of these tour buses needs to be inspected.”
Supervisor Aaron Peskin also supports local tour bus inspections, his legislative aide Sunny Angulo said. She said “we field a steady stream of complaints from constituents.”
In November a tour bus crashed into construction site scaffolding at Union Square.
Investigations following the crash revealed state entities, including the California Highway Patrol, did not uncover faulty buses at City Sightseeing San Francisco. CHP later inspected the company, and found City Sightseeing had a litany of broken buses, failures to inspect buses, and drivers working far more than eight hours a day – a safety concern.
Walk SF and the San Francisco Bike Coalition are in support of Ting’s bill as well. Nicole Ferrara, head of Walk SF, said tour buses are “a dangerous combo of size and speed.”
“When 25 tons hits the flesh and bone of a 150, or 200 pound individual, you know who ends up on the bad end,” she said.
Among other mechanical problems revealed in City Sightseeing’s bus fleet after the crash, one bus had a fuel leak and another had inoperative brake lamps. Others had inoperative emergency exits.
The report from the CHP further showed drivers weren’t required to file daily vehicle inspection reports. More than 20 percent of the buses sampled (they did not test all of them) were placed out of service.
In a statement released in late December by Christian Watts, CEO of City Sightseeing San Francisco, he wrote the CHP found “issues” with vehicles, and paperwork.
Watts said City Sightseeing resolved “all vehicle-related matters right away, with most issues being fixed on the day of the inspection.”
Ting’s bill is part of a group of bills aiming to strengthen inspections of tour buses. Senate Bill 812, authored by Hill and co-authored by Ting and Chiu, would require CHP to inspect tour buses more frequently. AB 1574, authored by Chiu and co-authored by Ting and Hill, would require CPUC to cross reference tour buses it registers with the DMV.
Out of an estimated 30,000 tour buses operating in California, Ting said, nearly 18,000 are “ghost buses” which are unknown to safety regulators – and therefore, not inspected.