PORTLAND, Maine — A recent CBS 13 investigation discovered widespread, potentially dangerous problems with the buses Maine children ride back and forth to school.
The Portland television station found more than half of the school buses in the state fail to meet basic safety standards, according to Maine State Police reports.
Every school day thousands of Maine kids get on school buses. In fact, 80 percent of Maine students take the bus to school, but CBS 13 found about 65 percent of the buses in Maine fail their state inspections. In some school districts, it’s even worse.
“It’s really about ensuring that our most valued and treasured commodity makes it back and forth to school everyday,” state police Sgt. Bruce Scott said.
Scott leads the team responsible, by law, for inspecting school buses once a year, documenting issues and deciding if the buses are safe.
Inspection documents we reviewed and analyzed show inspectors failed 17 of the 19 buses in the South Portland School Department. That means 90 percent of buses in South Portland are not making the grade because inspectors found defects. One in three buses was taken out of service immediately.
“You’re finding stuff; even if it’s little stuff in almost every busy you’re dealing with,” Scott said.
Even a small defect can trigger a failure; for example, a loose mirror and a broken horn.
Other violations are serious safety problems like rusted brake lines, a malfunctioning steering mechanism, broken suspension springs and chemicals that aren’t supposed to be there.
Some problems can be fixed on the spot, while others are pulled out of service.
“It’s all about safety; we want to ensure they get to and from school safely,” Scott said. “We don’t want to defect related crashes, and we don’t want to have injuries due to poor maintenance.”
In a statement, South Portland’s Director of Operations Rafe Forland told CBS 13, “The school department experienced a failure rate that neither the mechanics nor I find acceptable.”
The South Portland School Department is not alone in trying to keep up with an aging fleet. State police records show the average age of a school bus in Maine is 7 years old. Sixty-five percent of the state’s nearly 3,000 school buses failed inspection.
“You’re seeing 100,000 miles on a lot of the buses we’re looking at,” Scott said.
That’s why Scott said these safety inspections and this state police team are important.
“Very, very important. I mean if my kid is on a bus that’s going to break down 2 seconds later, I’m probably not going to put her on the bus,” one mother, who only identified herself as Jennifer, told CBS 13 at a local bus stop. “I know they do what they’re supposed to be doing to make sure my kid will get their safe.”
Matt Morrison said safety is on his mind every morning as he sends his two children off to school.
“They hold our future; they’re our kids, but they’re also our future. We have to make sure they’re all safe,” the local father said.
Forland also told CBS 13, they’ve hired another mechanic to make sure every bus gets a thorough inspection on a regular, more consistent basis.
The Maine Department of Education sets aside $8 million a year to help buy buses and will replace about a hundred buses this year. One bus costs upwards of $80,000.