The maintenance supervisor at Sunset Empire Transportation District has assured the district’s board that buses on the road are safe.
“They wouldn’t go out if there was a safety issue,” Scott Smith said at a board meeting Thursday morning. “The drivers would catch them first and when they do, we don’t send them out.”
The testimony from Smith, the transit district’s maintenance supervisor for two years, counters Shawn Lines, a former employee, who told the board in August that a number of buses have maintenance flaws that make them unsafe.
“We brought the maintenance up to where it is now,” Smith said, “where everything is available to be on the road.”
Jeff Hazen, the transit district’s executive director, said the maintenance program has a higher standard than three or four years ago. “We invested in our maintenance program by hiring Scott as our maintenance supervisor,” he said.
Part of Smith’s responsibilities include responding to bus inspections that drivers are required to complete before and after their trips.
Hazen provided the board with a copy of one, undated pretrip inspection. He also provided an annual vehicle inspection report from January. The report included a detailed list of the transit district’s response to the issues from the inspection. For this particular bus, all front and rear brakes, a left-side turn signal light and wipers were replaced.
Every Sunset Empire bus is subject to a third-party inspection annually, according to Hazen, though only one inspection report was presented at the meeting.
“If they red tag something, it doesn’t roll — it stays on the lot,” Hazen said of the inspections. “But we haven’t had a lot of those.”
Hazen also shared an email from the owner of Precision Alignment LLC, which conducted the annual inspections. The email claimed the mechanical condition of Sunset Empire’s fleet of buses is generally above average.
The conversation before the board on Thursday came after Lines and a number of current and former Sunset Empire employees reached out to The Astorian and expressed concerns about bus safety.
Hazen addressed one of those concerns in front of the board and acknowledged utilizing a bolt in place of a broken turn-signal switch.
“Yes, that’s true, there was a bolt put in there in place of it because the turn signal arm had broken,” he said. “That was just really for the comfort of the driver to know that the turn signal was there. On that particular bus, there’s also turn-signal buttons on the floor operated by foot, so it was never a safety issue.”
Kathy Kleczek, the board’s chairwoman, accepted the assurances from Smith and Hazen.
“Is there room for improvement? There is always room for improvement. Can we always do things better? Yes,” she said. “Are we sending unsafe buses out there on the road? I have every confidence that we are not.”