The Boston charter bus company Crystal Transport Inc. has been by ordered by federal authorities not to operate over state lines after failing a recent investigation that revealed multiple safety issues, including drivers who had tested positive for drugs or alcohol and continued to transport passengers.
The carrier is still operating locally, shuttling several thousand University of Massachusetts Boston students between campus and the JFK/UMass T station each day. But it will be shut down completely on March 29 unless the company can prove it has taken the required steps to improve its safety rating.
The carrier, which operates 44 buses, was not found by federal investigators to be an “imminent hazard” to the public, a determination that grounds a fleet immediately.
Crystal is the third Boston bus company to face being pulled off the road by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which has recently stepped up its oversight of interstate carriers. The Department of Transportation agency last year shut down Boston-New York Chinatown carriers Fung Wah and Lucky Star; Lucky Star was later reinstated.
Armed with new powers granted by Congress in 2012, the federal agency shut down 60 passenger motorcoach companies across the country in 2013. Five interstate carriers have been shut down so far this year.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, which conducts roadside inspections of buses, has ordered Crystal president Linda Carroll to appear at a hearing March 31 to provide evidence that the carrier should remain on the road. The state agency was instrumental in getting Fung Wah off the road last year
The compliance review of Crystal, finished Feb. 7, revealed drivers who had put in over 70 hours in an eight-day period, tested positive for controlled substances, and were allowed on the road before pre-employment drug and alcohol screenings were completed. It is unclear if these drivers are still operating buses.
“Crystal’s oversight of its drivers is egregiously lacking,” the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said in one of its reports.
Clerks and dispatchers were improperly included in the pool of employees subject to random drug and alcohol testing, investigators found, which meant that drivers were not being tested frequently enough. Investigators also found falsified driver hours-of-service records, medical certificates, and driving records that hadn’t been maintained, as well as 49 speeding violations.
Federal regulators have cited Crystal in the past for improper drug and alcohol screening and a lack of compliance with safety regulations. Over the past two years, roadside inspections also turned up multiple out-of-date duty records and 50 maintenance violations, including faulty wiring, brakes, floors, battery installation, power steering, and axle parts.
Despite these violations, the February audit was Crystal’s first full safety review in five years, and its safety rating has remained satisfactory since 2009. An unsatisfactory rating that would put the company out of service is slated to go into effect March 29. A motorcoach company with an unsatisfactory rating is not permitted to operate in or out of state.
Kevin Sheehan, general manager of Crystal Transport, said the carrier submitted paperwork March 4 that showed it had taken actions to correct the problems.
“Today there are no know deficiencies that would make Crystal noncompliant with the Federal Motor Carrier safety regulation that we all abide by,” Sheehan said in a statement e-mailed to the Globe. “Being committed on perfecting our safety rating, we have hired two consultant from MC Compliance Services who are certified in compliance reviews to review all our documents and procedures.”
Crystal took its interstate buses off the road on Thursday after learning from the federal regulator’s website that its authority to operate across state lines had been revoked, Sheehan said. The carrier does a fair amount of business out of state, Sheehan said, including taking groups to New York, Washington, and Foxwoods. Crystal used to serve Boston University regularly but has made only a limited number of trips in the past few years.
Several UMass-Boston students and staff members getting on and off Crystal buses at the JFK T stop Thursday expressed concern over the violations. Makiya Polk, 23, who rides the bus to campus every day, said she was leery of taking the shuttle after learning that investigators had found so many issues with the drivers.
“If something’s wrong with them, then anything can happen to the students on the bus. We are really all in danger,” she said. “Now that I know, I feel pretty weirded out by it and unsafe.”
Ashley Phillips, 26, takes the shuttle to UMass every day to work in the financial aid office.
“It’s kind of shocking and unnerving,” she said. “It seems they are sacrificing safety for efficiency.”
UMass Boston spokeswoman Crystal Valencia said in a statement that the school was monitoring the situation closely: “We expect and ask that our vendors meet the highest safety standards. Crystal Transportation has assured us that they are meeting these standards, and that the buses they provide to our campus are safe.”