App of the Week: SaferBus

Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a weekly series in which MainStreet spotlights one new smartphone app to help readers manage their money, shop better or improve their job search. Check back each week to find out how to make your smartphone even smarter!

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Next time you’re planning to travel by bus, you may want to open up the SaferBus app first. Then again, if you don’t want to freak yourself out, you might not.

The free iPhone app, released earlier this month by the Department of Transportation, makes it easier for travelers to vet a bus company’s safety records based on data the agency collected from the previous two years of roadside inspections. The app also includes directions for how to file a complaint with the government if the bus ride doesn’t go smoothly.

You can search based on the bus company’s name or its Department of Transportation identification number, which should be displayed on the side of the bus and listed on the company’s website. We would suggest using the latter for more accurate results. When we searched for Megabus, a cheap bus line in the Northeast, it pulled up two nearly identical results – “Megabus com” and “Megabuscom” – each with vastly different ratings. It was only when we used the identification number that we found the right one.

Once you’ve picked out the proper bus company, the app lets you search for its safety ratings in categories ranging from fatigued drivers to driver fitness. For example, when we looked up Greyhound, we found there were no violations for drivers using drugs or controlled substances (phew), but the company ranked in the bottom 50% in terms of drivers who were fit to operate a bus, meaning they lacked either proper training, experience or medical qualifications.

Yet several other bus companies had similarly mixed results, which raises the obvious question: What, if anything, are users supposed to take away from using the app?

At its best, the app serves as an additional comparison tool when searching through transportation options. It can show you if a bus has multiple safety violations or if it ranks at the bottom of the pack in the various safety categories. Beyond that, it will tell you whether the bus company is legally allowed to operate. Each of these is a potential red flag and if you notice too many red flags, it’s probably a better idea to try a different bus company.

You can download the app for free on iTunes.

Seth Fiegerman is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by e-mail at seth.fiegerman@thestreet.com, or follow him on Twitter @sfiegerman.

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