Tour, coach bus industry get federal scrutiny

DURHAM -- Two empty taxis rolled into a budget motel parking lot on Hillsborough Road at 5 a.m. Thursday, a sure sign that the first of seven buses from New York City would arrive soon.

Three federal safety inspectors were standing in the dark a few minutes later as a white Sky Express coach rolled to a stop. The skinny driver bounded down the steps. He laughed sheepishly, like a young man who knew he was in trouble.

"Are you ready to see my driver's license?" asked the driver, shivering in a gray hoodie sweatshirt. A few of his 51 passengers stepped from the bus and waited in the cold morning to retrieve their bags.

"Please," said officer Tim Switzer. "And your medical card, your log book and your registration. But go ahead and take care of your passengers first."

Switzer and five more inspectors from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spent three hours quizzing drivers and looking for safety violations on two Sky Express buses and four buses from other companies.

The buses were part of the nation's growing fleet of charter coach companies and so-called "curbside" bus lines that stop in parking lots and side streets to drop off riders and pick up new ones.

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