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The Boston Globe

Business

Crystal bus service shut down for safety violations

Crystal Transport shuttles thousands of students a day between the University of Massachusetts Boston and the JFK/UMass station.

John Blanding/Globe Staff

Crystal Transport shuttles thousands of students a day between the University of Massachusetts Boston and the JFK/UMass station.

Crystal Transport Inc. has been shut down by federal regulators, halting all operations at the Boston bus company that shuttles thousands of students, staff, and tourists each day from the MBTA’s Red Line JFK/UMass Station to the University of Massachusetts Boston campus and the John F. Kennedy Library.

Crystal was ordered not to operate over state lines on March 19 after failing a recent investigation that revealed multiple safety issues, including three drivers who had tested positive for drugs and continued to transport passengers. The company was allowed to continue to run locally until Saturday, when an “unsatisfactory” safety rating went into effect.

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Kevin Sheehan, general manager of Crystal Transport, said the carrier has fixed the problems but missed the deadline to file its corrective action plan.

“We’re waiting for them to approve everything now,” he said.

Crystal officials were at a hearing Monday with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, which conducts random inspections of local buses.

Crystal, which operates 44 buses and has been running since 1983, has transported UMass students for 25 years. The charter company also takes groups to New York, Washington, and Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Conn., among other destinations.

Despite being cited for multiple violations over the past few years, triggering alerts for vehicle maintenance and drug and alcohol testing, Crystal went five years without a full federal safety review.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates interstate bus companies, completed a review in February that revealed drivers who had put in more than 70 hours in an eight-day period and drivers who had tested positive for controlled substances and were allowed back on the road before preemployment drug and alcohol screenings were completed.

The three drivers who tested positive were immediately taken out of service, Sheehan said, but the substance abuse program they were required to go through before being allowed back on the road did not meet federal standards. The drivers were subsequently pulled out of service again and went through an approved program.

None of the drivers is currently working for Crystal, Sheehan said.

Investigators said they also found falsified records tallying drivers’ hours and driving records that had not been maintained, as well as 49 speeding violations.

“We will continue to demand that bus and truck companies fulfill their responsibility to ensure that dangerous vehicles and unsafe drivers are not permitted on our highways and roads,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement about the shutdown. “Companies that fail in this responsibility will not be allowed to operate.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also last week revoked the interstate operating authority of Pandora Travel Inc. of Lawrence. Pandora drivers have racked up numerous traffic violations in the past two years, including 11 speeding tickets and a rollover accident in January, that put its operators in the bottom 2 percent of drivers in the carrier’s safety category.

Crystal is the third Boston bus company to be pulled off the road in the past year by the safety administration, which has recently stepped up its oversight of interstate carriers. The agency shut down Boston-New York Chinatown carriers Fung Wah and Lucky Star last year; Lucky Star was later reinstated.

UMass has arranged for two other carriers to cover Crystal’s routes from the T station and around campus: Paul Revere Transportation, which operates Logan Airport’s terminal shuttle, and Academy Bus, which serves Boston University, Tufts University, and Emerson College.

The university told students to expect delays at first because of the limited number of buses available to cover Crystal’s routes.

“This was a necessary step to ensure that our campus community continues to feel safe and secure when traveling to and from campus,” UMass Boston vice chancellor Ellen O’Connor said in a statement.

Several Crystal riders have expressed concern about how the buses are operated, including drivers cramming too many passengers onboard and behaving recklessly.

Laura Innis said she is suing the company for injuries she sustained after a driver slammed on the brakes and sent her catapulting into the accordion-like connector between the two sections of the bus.

Edan Shekar, a UMass student, said the Crystal experience has been getting progressively worse in his four years of riding the shuttle, with drivers getting into arguments with passengers and zipping around corners.

“The drivers were driving like the buses were race cars,” he said. “It was just bat out of hell.”

Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.
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