08/25/13 — WCPS revamps bus inspection procedures

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WCPS revamps bus inspection procedures

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 25, 2013 1:50 AM

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Students rush to catch their bus at Wayne School of Engineering last week. Wayne County Public Schools has tightened rules regarding bus upkeep in the wake of a state report critical of how the system has been maintaining its fleet of buses.

The Wayne County Public School system has tightened its bus inspection program in the wake of a state report that was critical of its inspection record over the past two years.

"The schools' transportation department is monitoring safety inspections more closely and has increased the layers of checks and balances," Transportation Director Raymond Smith said last week.

In May, the North Carolina School Bus Defect Report cited "multiple safety issues," including potential fire hazards, low transmission fluid and loose wires during a random inspection of the county fleet of buses.

"Transportation supervisors are now required to go behind mechanics to verify the accuracy of their inspections. This will allow supervisors to better evaluate the caliber of inspections being performed, as well as serve as a second set of eyes for mechanics," Smith said.

The state requires school districts to conduct regular safety inspections on school buses every 30 days. Local requirements will now be more stringent, Smith said. In the past, the school system was required to conduct safety inspections on buses every 30 days or 5,000 miles, whichever came first, he said. Now, school buses receive safety inspections every 3,000 miles, 300 gallons of fuel or 30 days, whichever comes first.

Bus drivers also will be required to be vigilant.

"Bus drivers are receiving increased training and an increased role in conducting visual inspections of school buses before and after routes are traveled," he said. "In essence, bus drivers will look for issues that mechanics may need to be aware, such as leaks, tire wear, torn seats, etc."A new method for prioritizing maintenance issues also is being introduced, called the Tag Program.

Following safety inspections, Smith explained, a tag will be issued by mechanics if a problem is discovered. A yellow tag indicates repairs should be made within six work days from the original inspection. A red tag will represent a more pressing need, requiring repairs to be made within five days. Any bus that receives a red tag will be pulled off the road until repairs are made and a new safety inspection is performed.

Further, Smith said, the department will conduct special monthly campaigns targeting identified bus inspection areas.

"For instance, a tire tread campaign was held prior to the end of the 2012-13 school year," he said. "In addition to increased efforts by bus drivers and mechanics to monitor this area, transportation administrators and key transportation staff visited schools to conduct their own inspections of school bus tires.

"The first two campaigns planned for the 2013-14 school year will focus on bus seating cuts, holes and tears and brake adjustments."

Smith said his staff will continue to work on improving its high efficiency rating, which reflects how efficiently the buses operate in such areas as idling and stops, etc. Currently that rate, reported by the state, is 95.24 percent.

"Although the Wayne County Public Schools transportation department has touted a high safety record for several years, this past state safety inspection revealed some deficiencies in the management of our bus fleet that needed to be immediately addressed," he said, adding that he is confident in the strength of the revamped maintenance improvement plan.

"I believe the plan will improve the overall fleet management of our buses, as well as provide assurance to students, parents and the community that school bus safety is and always will be a top priority for the district and the transportation department."