Analysis: 50% of school buses fail inspection in St. Louis, Jefferson City

(The Center Square) – School buses that operate in St. Louis and Jefferson City’s public school districts had high rates of failed inspections performed by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, according to an analysis by The Center Square.

Statewide, approximately 10% of school buses were rated “defective” during the second of two inspections during the past school year, according to Highway Patrol. Approximately 4% of the buses were put “out of service” after inspection.

State law requires school buses to be inspected twice each year. The first is within 60 days of the beginning of the school year and at any state inspection facility. The second begins in February and is done by Highway Patrol.

Highway Patrol inspected 11,464 school buses that operate in public, private and charter districts during late winter and spring. Buses receive one of three ratings: approved, defective and out-of-service. Highway Patrol data lists buses according to district, not the private companies some districts contract to run buses.

St. Louis Public Schools contracts its busing out to the Missouri Central Bus Company. The highway patrol inspected 235 buses transporting students in the district. St. Louis County Special School District operates the largest fleet in the state with 292 buses.

Approximately 36% of the buses contracted by St. Louis Public Schools were rated defective and 14% out of service, leaving 50% approved. The Special School District had 98% of buses approved and 2% were defective.

“We are a client of Missouri Central and I am certain our transportation department is working to make sure the vendor is being held accountable and improving this record,” St. Louis Public Schools Communications Director George Sells told The Center Square.

In Jefferson City 32% of 65 buses operating in the district were rated defective and 25% out of service, leaving only 43% approved.

“We don’t put a lot of buses out of service,” Lt. Eric Brown of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said during an interview with The Center Square. “When you have buses fail, things need to be repaired before the bus gets back on the road. Frequently, it’s something that can be repaired that day and might even get re-inspected before our inspectors leave the area.”

State law requires the bus owner or operator to have problems corrected in 10 days and proper notification given to the patrol or those authorized by the patrol’s superintendent.

“If the defects or unsafe conditions found constitute an immediate danger, the bus shall not be used until corrections are made and the superintendent of the Missouri state highway patrol or those persons authorized by the superintendent are notified,” Missouri law states.

Only seven public school districts where 50 or more buses operate – Fort Zumwalt, Independence, Ferguson-Florissant, Camdenton, Neosho and Washington – had all buses pass inspection. There were 36 private, public and charter schools where 39% or fewer buses got an “approved” rating with fleet sizes ranging from one to 19.

The patrol uses a 24-point list to inspect the buses. It also publishes a 52-page manual on school bus inspection regulations.

“Most repairs are made quickly and most buses put right back into service because we know they’re safe,” Lt. Brown said. “Buses are inspected a couple of times a year as opposed to private vehicles.”

Lt. Brown emphasized students being transported on a bus to school are safer than when they’re walking, riding bikes or riding/driving in a family car. He noted the National School Transportation Association’s research on the number of fatalities of school age children traveling to and from school, per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, is 70 times higher in passenger vehicles than in school buses.

The Center Square analyzed and sorted data on 11,464 school bus inspections performed by the Missouri Highway Patrol at 593 public, private and charter schools throughout Missouri.

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