A former Sunset Empire Transportation District employee has raised questions about the safety of buses.
A number of the transit district’s buses have maintenance flaws that make them unsafe for the road, Shawn Lines, the former employee, told the district’s board on Thursday.
“Most of the buses have serious mechanical issues,” said Lines, who said he worked for Sunset Empire from late May until early August.
The list of problems, he claimed, included “faulty brakes … fuel tanks literally leaking fuel all over the road and side of the bus right next to the passenger loading and unloading door … broken instrument panels, lights and switches not working ...”
Lines provided photos to The Astorian of what he described as a leaking fuel tank. He claimed to have compiled photo evidence of all of the issues he relayed to the board.
“What they did was wrong,” Lines said in an interview. “I couldn’t put myself in buses that were unsafe any longer.”
Lines had prepared an eight-minute statement for the board meeting, but his testimony was stopped after three minutes, the maximum time allotted for public comments.
“He’s bringing up things that we’re unaware of,” Jeff Hazen, the transit district’s executive director, said. He declined to comment further until he receives a written copy of Lines’ full statement.
Sunset Empire buses were towed 15 times in 2018, according to the dispatcher’s log at Astoria-based Classic Towing. To compare, the combined Astoria and Warrenton school districts required just two tows during the same year, said Alysha Mair, a dispatcher.
So far this year, Sunset Empire has been towed six times, she said.
“We have a good maintenance program,” Hazen said.
Every year, he said, an independent organization inspects Sunset Empire’s vehicles. “All of our buses passed and were certified” and every bus is inspected, according to Hazen.
But Lines doubts such assurances. He is working with current and former Sunset Empire employees to bring the issues at the transit district to the public eye.
Lines claims the transit district has disregarded reports of mechanical problems by bus drivers.
“They would be thrown away,” Lines said. “Many drivers, including myself, watched it being done.”
Former and current Sunset Empire employees reached out to The Astorian regarding the mechanical state of the buses.
Rose Ominski, a former employee, expressed frustration.
“Why is it that day after day after day when we get into the same bus that we wrote up with all these deficiencies and all these defects,” she said, “they’re not fixed and you still have them running on the road?”
“The company can be better. It could be great,” Lines said in an email to Hazen earlier this month. “I love the job itself. But changes need to be made.”