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Top Class Bus Co. ordered to cease operations

CONYERS -- Top Class Bus Company, which lists its mailing address as a P.O. box in Conyers, was ordered to cease passenger operations Friday by the federal Department of Transportation for "blatantly disregarding federal safety regulations" and putting the company's drivers, passengers and the motoring public at risk.

The order issued by the DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration prohibits Top Class Bus Company from any type of commercial passenger service and blocks the unapproved use of its buses by another company or any driver.

"Bus companies that operate outside the law, putting lives at risk, will be immediately taken off the road and closed for business," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

Colleen James, who was listed in the order as the individual who "owns, manages, controls directs or otherwise oversees" the operations of Top Class Bus Company, could not be reached Monday. A message on the company website reads: "All reservations cancelled. Top Class Bus Company would like to thank our valued customers. Please note that all services are cancelled until further notice. Please keep checking our website for updates. All reservations dated 02/15/13 and after are in the process of being refunded. Thank you."

A four-day, unannounced investigation by FMCSA found that Top Class Bus Company, which operates fixed-route passenger service primarily between Atlanta and New York City five to six times a week, failed to monitor and ensure that drivers comply with hours of service requirements, records of duty status requirements, qualification requirements and controlled substances and alcohol use and testing requirements.

A passenger complaint against the bus company alleged that on one trip to New York, the bus driver "was falling asleep repeatedly on the bus and the passengers had to yell to wake him up," according to Friday's order. In addition, the complaint stated that the driver "kept driving off the highway on the shoulder." During this trip the driver drove for 17 straight hours, according to the FMCSA order, a violation of the FMCSA hours of service limit. That regulation prohibits a driver from driving more than 10 hours following eight consecutive hours off duty.

The investigation also found that Top Class dispatched drivers for trips that required drivers to speed and/or falsify records of duty status in order to complete the route schedules between Atlanta and New York City. "In the past year, five drivers have also received citations for exceeding posted speed limits in excess of 15 miles per hour while transporting passengers," according to the order.

Other violations found by FMCSA included failure to ensure bus drivers have valid commercial drivers licenses, failure to comply with mandated random controlled substance testing; and failure to have a vehicle maintenance program in place.

According to the company website, Top Class Bus Company typically picked up passengers at 4086A Covington Highway in Decatur, in the Covington Farmers Market shopping center, and at the corner of 31st Street and 7th Avenue, Madison Square Garden and Penn Station in New York.

The investigation into Top Class Bus Company's operations coincided with a nationwide safety crackdown on high-risk motor coach companies, according to the FMCSA.

"While this particular investigation was initiated earlier, it symbolizes our commitment to take immediate action and shut down an entire company if it willfully disregards the law, jeopardizing the safety of everyone," said Anne S. Ferro, FMCSA administrator.

Top Class Bus Company can have the order rescinded only after the company identifies the cause for its noncompliance; develops a detailed safety management plan that addresses each area of noncompliance, the steps it intends to take to overcome its noncompliance and a time table for these steps; submits a statement of the owners and managing officers of Top Class Bus Company that they are committed to complying with the FMCSRs; and executes the safety management plan and provides certification by all owners and officers.

If the order is rescinded, Top Class Bus Company will then be required to apply to the USDOT for authorization to resume motor carrier operations transporting passengers.

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