When parents put their precious children on buses and send them off to school, they expect the operators to drive well-maintained and safe vehicles. But a troubling percentage of those buses in Minnesota failed safety inspections this year — a situation that calls for corrective action.
A Star Tribune news story reported that the state’s largest student transportation company, First Student, had 141 of its 1,160 buses pulled from the road by state inspectors until repairs were made. In addition, the company was given 14 days to make less serious repairs on another 143 buses. That represented a 12% failure rate for the company, exceeding the statewide average of 7.7%, according to Department of Public Safety (DPS) data.
Lt. Brian Reu, DPS director of pupil transportation safety, told an editorial writer that if a district or school consistently has trouble passing inspections, it should either address and correct the problems or shift its business produce a better safety record.
According to data obtained by the Star Tribune, First Student buses flunked tests for serious safety problems including brakes, flat tires, steering, an emergency door buzzer and a fuel-leak filter, as well as for minor violations such as a defective door gasket, headlamp, loose seats and an exhaust leak. Reu said a failure rate of 10% or more raises flags. “We’ve told [First Student and others] that failures bring more attention to them and that our inspectors are more likely to return unannounced to make sure repairs have been made.”
A spokesman for First Student Inc. said in a statement to the Star Tribune that because it operates the largest fleet in Minnesota, the Cincinnati-based company has faced the most inspections and “increased complexity and intricacy” in its operations. First Student’s failure rate rose from 5% to 12% between 2016 and 2019. During the same period, the state’s average failure rate grew from 6.2% to 7.7%, according to DPS figures. Minnesota law requires that every one of the 11,000 school buses that operate in the state be inspected at least once a year.
Bus operators are given advance notice of inspections, so there’s really no excuse for high failure rates. In 2018, the State Patrol inspected vehicles at 816 different contractors and districts, according to DPS.
Officials say the majority of Minnesota operators do a good job keeping buses repaired and roadworthy. Although there’s no mandate for bus companies to disclose inspection information to school districts, detailed annual inspection reports are listed on the State Patrol’s website. Schools, districts and parents can use that information to monitor the buses that transport their kids, Reu said.
With student safety at stake, vigilance matters.