Broken Buses: 80 percent of buses fail inspection

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Bob Segall/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - There are more concerns over school bus safety after four out of every five school buses failed a state-ordered inspection. That inspection was ordered after 13 Investigates found major safety problems under First Student school buses.

Every day those buses transport nearly 20,000 students to local schools.

As they promised, Indiana State Police arrived at First Student bus company Thursday morning and went right to work. They lined up buses for spot inspections after an Eyewitness News investigation exposed serious mechanical problems with the First Student fleet.

Since that investigation first aired Monday night, First Student mechanics have been working round the clock to find problems and fix them, and earlier Thursday, the company assured IPS that the problems had been resolved.

But that is not what state police inspectors found. Those inspectors checked 21 buses and more than 80 percent of the buses were rejected because of problems identified by state police.

out of fairness to the bus company, not all of the rejections were for major safety violations. However, out of the 21 buses inspected, a third of them were  problems so serious, state police ordered them out of service.

Among the problems: emergency exit malfunctions, faulty brake adjustments, and perhaps most dangerous, major fluid leaks involving the bus' power steering.

"That's going to affect the drivability and the steerability of the bus," said Sgt. Dave Bursten. "If the bus can't be steered easily, that could be a contributing factor to a crash. I don't think the driver would want to be on it knowing it, I don't think a student would want to be on there knowing about it and I don't think any parent would want their child on it."

All of the serious safety problems were fixed quickly and the buses were allowed to return to service. But 14 buses still have more minor problems that must be fixed within the next 30 days.

"Your report was really a godsend," said Dr. Eugene White, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools.

Dr. White says he is grateful that problems under the buses have been exposed and that state police are conducting inspections. But he'd like to see state police do even more.

"I thought they would check the whole fleet. To me they have some obligations to tell me and my parents and the community that all those buses are safe for the highway. I mean, we check all the buses in the state every summer so I'm sure we can check 200-some buses. From our standpoint and safety, I think it makes sense," said Dr. White.

Eyewitness News asked Sgt. Bursten why all of the buses were not checked.

"Everything in life comes back to resources. We have X number of resources to commit," he said.

State Police have no plans to spot check every bus in the First Student fleet, at least not right now. But inspectors were not happy with Thursday's inspection and based on that, their job is far from done.

"If we felt we were seeing the things we wanted to see in the 20 buses we looked at today, we wouldn't be coming back tomorrow but we are coming back tomorrow," said Sgt. Bursten. "We told the company we're coming back tomorrow and they're expecting to see us tomorrow."

"Overall, I think things went pretty well today," said First Student region manager Andre Dean. The company issued a statement Thursday afternoon (see below) that said First Student will continue to work with State Police to identify and correct safety problems.

The company's mechanics will be working late into the night to get ready for day two of spot inspections.

That is scheduled to begin 10:00 am Friday.

First Student's Thursday statement:

"At First Student, safety is our top priority.

We have been working with state officials to perform safety checks on all of our buses and make any necessary repairs, and continue to work with them throughout the inspection process.

I want you to know that at First Student, safety is a core value. Our staff of certified mechanics routinely performs scheduled maintenance on our buses to repair and maintain our vehicles in accordance with state regulations. We take the safety of the children we transport very seriously."

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