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OKCPS bus drivers skipping required checks, buses found with broken emergency equipment

(KOKH/FILE)

Inspection records from 2017 show more than 70 OKCPS buses didn’t meet state safety requirements. The defects highlight the important role that drivers play in the inspection process that OKCPS has struggled to oversee.

Bus 2132 carries special needs students from U.S. Grant High School and Monroe Elementary school. Lilliana Guerrero’s 9-year-old daughter rides bus 2132.

“She’s a special kid,” Lilliana says about her hearing impaired daughter Maria. “That’s my little miracle.”

When Mrs. Guerrero saw the 2017 inspection report that found her daughter’s bus had a broken emergency brake, exit latch, and an engine that inspectors said “smells like something is burning when A/C is turned on”, she was stunned.

“Until today, I thought the bus was running perfectly,” she said. “My daughter's not going to school on that bus (any longer).”

The updated inspection record for bus 2132 performed in February shows the bus had: a horn that did not work, a front head light out, that it “dies” when idling, missing gas cap, clearance light out, exhaust pipe broken, loose brake calipers, loose tire rod, and that the power steering leaked.

Oklahoma City Public Schools spokesperson Beth Harrison said all defects identified during the annual inspections were fixed before the bus was used to transport children.

The most common problems with OKCPS buses were broken emergency exits (4), broken emergency exit alarms (9), and broken emergency brakes (7), according to the district’s annual inspection records.

The number of OKCPS buses with problems should be examined further, says current School Bus Safety Consultant and Retired NYS DOT Bus Inspector Supervisor Joe Scesny.

“It's definitely a red flag and a cause for concern,” Scesny said of the number of buses found to have problems. "Regardless of how safely you drive, if your bus is unsafe your driving will be unsafe."

NEW BUSES HAD PROBLEMS

The OKCPS bus fleet has 81 new buses purchased in 2017. The $2.2 million investment was to save on annual lease payments of $450,000, according Transportation Director Scott Lane.

Months after their purchase, inspection records show two new buses (3105, 3109) had broken stop signs and that bus 3007 had four broken emergency windows and latches.

“Most of those buses, most likely ran a lot of rough routes, and that jostling back and forth does wear on those and they have to be replaced,” said Lane.

DRIVERS ON THE FRONT LINE OF CATCHING PROBLEMS, BUT SOME ARE SKIPPING MANDATORY SAFETY CHECKS

Before a single student boards a school bus drivers are required to perform a pre-trip inspection that includes checking the brakes, lights, engine, and exits to make sure they work. That means drivers need to walk all the way around the bus, open the hood, and make sure each switch and lever works properly. It’s a process that OKCPS driver Mike Eakins says should take about 15 minutes.

“If you notice anything that's wrong you want to take it to the transportation director,” Eakins says.

Reviewing surveillance video from the district’s bus garage and public records, FOX 25 found not all drivers are competing the inspections. A random sample of surveillance video from the OKCPS bus garage shows multiple drivers entered their bus in the morning and left without walking around the bus to check tires, brakes, or lights.

If a driver isn’t thoroughly checking a school bus before a trip they could fail to notice something such as a flat tire, says Scesny who helped write the national school bus safety standards.

“If the inside tire's flat it'll start rubbing and create a fire during a run,” Scesny said.

Drivers also have to complete a daily checklist to show they’ve inspected all of the bus’s components. A record of bus 2115 shows the driver indicated that the emergency equipment was in working order but a random inspection performed soon after showed both emergency window alarms were broken. There were multiple instances like this available to be cross-referenced before the driver’s inspection list were destroyed.

When drivers do document and report a problem, the bus is taken out of service and fixed before it’s put back into service.

OKCPS OFFICIALS ARE AWARE OF THE PROBLEMS

The district’s transportation director says his department monitors drivers to see who is not performing their mandatory pre-trip inspections.

“I do talk to drivers every day about their pre-trips,” says Scott Lane. "There are some things we're catching and some improvements after we address the drivers."

Not one driver was terminated solely because of their pre-trip inspections, according to a district spokesperson.

Driver pay is an issue when hiring qualified driver candidates. Starting pay for a OKCPS bus driver is $12.56/hr.

“(Drivers) can go out with that same CDL (commercial drivers license) and drive a box truck that doesn't have the same responsibility and usually make more than that,” says Lane.

The transportation budget is down from $7.4 million in 2014 to $5.6 million in 2018. The district has also eliminated may bus routes, reducing the need for as many drivers.

OKCPS TAKING STEPS TO HIRE DRIVERS – HOLD CURRENT EMPLOYEES ACCOUNTABLE

District officials say they’re taking steps to ensure drivers are doing their inspections. They’ve done more training, added TV’s in the director’s office to watch drivers in the morning, and the district is applying for a grant to pay for bus sensors that would alert the director if a driver is skipping parts of the inspections.

The district has sold about 50 of its buses that have had issues.

Problems with OKCPS buses can be reported by calling 405-587-RIDE.

View inspection records for the buses below:


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