Bus ridership grows; industry standards strengthened - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Bus ridership grows; industry standards strengthened

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

The Queen City is already pulling in big money for the New Year. The American Bus Association convention rolled into town Saturday. The nearly 4,000 ABA attendees are among the key decision makers who influence where traveler's visit and how those dollars are spent.

"What people don't realize is every time a motor coach comes through town, on the average they drop off $11,660 every day. For our 50,000 tourism employees that's really important business," Mike Butts with the Charlotte Regional Visitor's Authority said.

New research by DePaul University of Chicago shows the industry is on the upswing. "It's pretty much off the chart growth we saw this year," Director of DePaul's Chaddick Institute Professor Joseph P. Schwieterman said. More than 700 million travelers chose motor coach last year. That just under the number of people who chose to fly.

Riders can often be enticed by the low fares. Seats can sell for as little as a dollar on some bus lines. But recent accidents pitted cost against safety. In 2011 a bus operated by Charlotte based Sky Express crashed, killing four people. The driver told police he fell asleep at the wheel. Shortly after that accident, the government started to crackdown on illegal companies with shoddy practices. Sky Express and dozens of others were shut down.

"What concerns us about safety is when enforcement is not being done as it should be. We don't see that much anymore. I think if we go back 3, 4 years we saw spotty enforcement," Pete Pantuso with the American Bus Association said. "There's also something that passed Congress this past year in 2012 that was a transportation bill. It did a lot of enhance safety in the bus and motorcoach industry...Looking at the people coming in to the industry..putting safety enhancement on buses. They're going to be requiring seatbelts very, very soon."

Researchers say more people are investing in the motor coach movement. European companies are dumping dollars into the U.S and with bad companies gone, legitimate bus lines are announcing expansions almost weekly.

"It use to be you could come into the industry for the cost of a hot dog vendors license in Washington, DC. Now that threshold has been raised and if you're going to come into the industry you're going to be serious about it," Pantuso said.

The convention runs through January 9th at the Charlotte Convention Center.

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