Broken Buses 1: WTHR discovers serious safety problems under school buses

Bob Segall inspects the underside of one of the buses.
Published: .
Updated: .

Bob Segall/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - An Eyewitness News investigation has discovered major problems with a number of IPS buses.

Based on a tip, 13 Investigates spent the weekend looking under dozens of buses at the lot of First Student, a company that contracts more than 250 buses to Indiana's largest school district. Every day, thousands of IPS students get to and from school on a First Student school bus. Their lot was left unlocked and wide open, leaving hundreds of buses to choose from.

13 Investigates inspected 65 school buses at First Student, and experts identified significant safety issues with about 60% of them. A videotape of the inspections revealed big problems involving brakes, tires, exhaust pipes, leaking fluids and shocks.

The tape was shown to Brian Scott, a master-certified bus mechanic, who said the brake problems alone are far too serious to ignore.

"There's definitely a major safety concern with that," he said as he watched the tape. "It is very dangerous."

Scott added that he would "absolutely not" want his child on a school bus with that kind of problem.

First thing Monday morning, 13 Investigates contacted Indiana State Police and they watched the videotape as well.

"My initial reaction is, that's terrible. There's no way that would pass a state police inspection," said ISP Sgt. Brent Alspach, who runs the state's bus inspection program. "There's no way that any state police officer or motor carrier inspector would have seen that and let that fly."

Sergeant Alspach said the video made him very angry.

"At this point, I'd say the entire fleet needs to be rechecked," he said. "I wouldn't want my kids on a bus like that."

When asked how quickly the issues need to be corrected, Sgt. Alspach replied, "Yesterday. The next step right now is we're going to First Student and look into these problems."

Minutes later, state police officers were re-inspecting buses at First Student. One bus was missing front shocks, a major violation, and was pulled off the road immediately. Employees told 13 Investigates that the company's repair shop is behind because it doesn't have enough mechanics.

"I would say we should have 10 or 11 people," one worker said.

The shop has only eight mechanics to handle more than 280 buses.

After further inspections and a long talk with company officials, state police decided not to re-inspect all buses on the lot. Instead, they will come back later in the week to see what improvements First Student has made, and whether more buses need to be taken out of service.

"These buses will pass okay," Sgt. Alspach said. "We talked with the management and they're aware some of the buses need checked and they're willing to check them tonight when they get back in and they'll call us tomorrow with the results that they found."

For now, the buses will keep on rolling, though it's not known if they are as safe as they're supposed to be. State police says the First Student bus fleet is safe for students to ride in the morning, but some master-certified bus mechanics are not comfortable with that decision.

Tuesday update: First Student issued the following statement Tuesday:

"At First Student, safety is our top priority. We perform regular scheduled maintenance and ongoing preventive maintenance inspections at strategic intervals to ensure our buses are safe and to predict and prevent problems. In addition, each driver, in accordance with DOT regulations, conducts a multi-point inspection before leaving for his/her route, using the latest electronic equipment to ensure our buses are in proper operating condition.

We follow all state requirements and inspect our buses according to company policy, which is every 4000 miles or 4 months which ever comes first. We deal with any issues if it affects the safety of our vehicles immediately. We have a staff of certified mechanics and others who are properly trained to repair and maintain our vehicles at this facility.

At First Student, safety is a core value. We take the safety of our vehicles and the safety of the children we transport very seriously."

Broken Buses story archive