After surviving the explosion of their bus Monday, passengers who rode the BoltBus that burst into flames say the company has seriously mishandled the situation.
Not only did the bus driver fail to help passengers evacuate, but one passenger's distressed email to the company was met with an invitation to participate in BoltBus' customer loyalty program, the passenger, Ariel Shapiro, told The Huffington Post.
Shapiro, 25, was seated at the very back of the bus, which caught fire and exploded at about 4:45 p.m. Monday during a trip from New York to Boston. No one was injured in the incident. A Massachusetts State Police investigation found that the blast was caused by a build-up of hot gases inside the bus, most likely originating from the engine, according to New England TV station NECN.
The bus had problems from the moment passengers boarded at about 11 a.m., Shapiro told HuffPost. The driver warned everyone that the vehicle was “an old bus” and so she wouldn’t be able to adjust the air conditioning, Shapiro recalled.
She "didn’t think too much of it" until she began to hear a strange beeping noise at around 1:30 p.m. Shortly after, the driver pulled over to a gas station in Connecticut and announced that the vehicle was having mechanical problems and would need repairs. While a local mechanic worked on the bus, the driver told Shapiro that the engine fan was broken, Shapiro said.
After about an hour they were back on the road, but at 4:30 p.m. Shapiro started to notice a horrible smell. Around 15 minutes later, she said, the driver pulled over to the side of the road with no explanation.
Smoke started to fill the back of the bus, and people began to evacuate, Shapiro said. But with no words or assistance from the driver, the process was chaotic, confused and slow.
As soon as she got off, Shapiro ran as far away as she could from the burning bus, she told HuffPost. An explosion blew the windows out about 10 minutes after the bus emptied.
"There was a good minute and a half that I was on that bus, very aware that it was a ticking time bomb and it was about to explode and I absolutely could have died," she said.
The bus' emergency exits were never opened, she added.
Other passengers agree that the driver downplayed the severity of the situation.
Passenger Grace Metri told NECN that after the gas station stop, the driver acted unconcerned.
"But there was still this noise in the bus, tick, tick, tick. And she said 'don't worry about it' and kept going," Metri said.
Lanesha Gipson, a spokeswoman for Greyhound Lines Inc., which owns BoltBus, told HuffPost in an email "we're currently investigating everything that occurred from the time the bus left New York to the time customers arrived in Boston to find out exactly what happened. This includes interviewing the driver and other parties involved."
She said this investigation is ongoing.
The day after the incident, Shapiro emailed BoltBus Director of Operations Bill Revere for answers about what happened. She was met with what she called a tone-deaf offer to join BoltBus' loyalty program. In the email, which Shapiro forwarded to HuffPost, Revere apologized for the incident and noted the fire was under investigation before mentioning:
I checked to see if you are a loyalty member and I did not see your name on the list. If you like, you can join our reward program and I would like to offer you a couple of round trips.
Shapiro responded with a more detailed email and Revere replied on Thursday, reassuring her the investigation was still ongoing. He also revisited his previous offer:
We hope that you continue to use Boltbus as your mode of transportation and as I mentioned in an earlier email I would like to credit you some trips. To do this you would need to join our loyalty program. Please let me know when this is completed.
Gipson told HuffPost that Revere meant well.
"[The offer] was intended as a way to offer the customer free roundtrip tickets," Gipson said. "As a loyalty member with BoltBus, we would be able to quickly and easily process free roundtrip tickets for a customer and eliminate some of the steps required if a customer was not enrolled in the loyalty program. We apologize if the response came across as insensitive."
Shapiro, who has not received a refund for her ticket, said she does not plan on joining the loyalty program.
This story has been updated to include Greyhound's response.