Investigation looks for manufacturing defects, could demand recall of buses
UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO has learned that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the safety of the Ride On Bus Fleet in Montgomery County. The NHTSA investigation will look for manufacturing defects in Ride On’s Champion International buses to determine if the bus fleet needs to be recalled.
“I am aware of a fair number of issues on these buses,” said NHTSA investigator Richard Willard in a call with Local 1994 officials who represent the Ride On bus operators and mechanics. “And it’s my opinion that these buses are driven on a harsher duty cycle than they were built for.”
Willard said NHTSA investigations are prompted by calls from safety officials like police or fire departments. He added that Montgomery County police and fire officials are quite good about reporting issues. Still, Willard wasn’t aware of three of the six fires that have occurred aboard the Champion International buses.
“We want to know why Ride On did not formally report problems to NHTSA on its own,” said Local 1994 President Gino Renne. “That should be standard procedure. The County Executive’s office should step up to lead and pull these buses from service. Quit playing Russian roulette with the safety of our bus operators and the riding public.”
Willard also told the Union that it’s difficult to track trends in small fleets and that not all incidents are reported to the NHTSA. “If we know of every safety-related defect, we can track trends, but not everything gets reported,” Willard said.
The Union has issued a grievance demanding that the problem buses be removed from service until the defects are revealed and corrected. The County initially told the Union that it was removing the buses from service in the next 18 months, but has now moved to a six-month deadline for replacing the buses.
“That’s not soon enough,” said bus operator and Union leader Nelvin Ransome. “We’ve seen six fires aboard these buses in the past three years. The fleet is aging and the possibilities are still too great we’ll see more incidents in the next six months.”
Champion has issued a recall of some models of its buses in the past and indications are that the experience of Montgomery County is not an isolated one.
Willard pointed out that NHTSA contacts manufacturers immediately upon beginning investigations so manufacturing problems, if discovered, are generally resolved quickly.
“We talk with the manufacturers. If we see signs that there is a defect, we can order them to recall the bus. It usually never gets there,” said Willard. “Manufacturers do the right thing.”
The Union grievance related to the buses charges that the County has failed “to enforce safety and health obligations under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and ensure the safety of all employees and the public. The continued operation of buses that catch fire is a known and foreseeable danger that unnecessarily exposes employees and the public to known and unacceptable risks.”
“Our role is to protect our members and the public from harm,” said Ransome. “Until the buses are removed from service, we won’t rest.”
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