School buses operated by private companies in Michigan failed the most recent safety inspection at a rate much higher than buses owned and operated by the state’s public schools, according to a published report Nov. 14.

In a Detroit Free Press analysis of State Police records, of the 801 buses operated by private contractors in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, Washtenaw, and Livingston counties, 492, or 61 percent, passed inspection. Buses owned by private schools performed slightly better, with 65 percent of 140 buses passing.

That compares with the 86-percent passing rate on the 4,017 buses owned by public schools and agencies in the five-county region.

Some cash-strapped districts hire private bus companies in an effort to save money. But, unless the buses are properly maintained, the cost-cutting can backfire, the report suggests.

“Once a bus deteriorates, it is hard to bring it up to standard,” said State Police Sgt. Sharron VanCampen, commander of the bus inspection unit.

Although passing rates improved overall this year, 10 percent of Michigan’s school buses still had violations serious enough that they were pulled off the road after inspection, according to State Police. An additional 6 percent were yellow-tagged with minor violations. In 1998-99, 14 percent were red-tagged and 7.5 percent were yellow-tagged.

State Police bus inspectors scrutinize 198 items on Michigan’s 17,800 school buses each year. Inspectors spend about 45 minutes inspecting each bus, the newspaper reported.

In Detroit, new bus contracts signed with private contractors will contain tougher performance and safety standards so the district can hold the companies accountable for passing inspections, said Dale Goby, executive director of student transportation for Detroit Public Schools.

“The old contracts had few provisions for performance, such as delivering students on time, passing State Police inspections, and performing preventive maintenance. There were also few penalties imposed on contractors,” Goby told the Free Press.

The district planned to make a presentation to the school board on November 15 about purchasing 200 new buses next year, which will cost $60,000-$90,000 each, he said. The fleet’s age has been blamed for many of the district’s maintenance problems.

Links:

Michigan State Police (motor carrier division), 4000 Collins Road, P.O. Box 30632, Lansing, MI 48909-8132; phone (517) 336-6195, web http://www.msp.state.mi.us/mcd.