Montgomery County bus drivers said Monday they feared for the safety of their passengers and themselves amid a greater focus on public vehicles that have caught fire in recent months.
As first reported by The Washington Examiner, five Ride On buses since 2009 have combusted. The 50 Champion model vehicles, which resemble airport-style shuttle buses, represent about an eighth of the county bus fleet but have been the only buses to catch fire during that time.
|Council chief: Ambulance fee personal for Leggett|
|The president of the Montgomery County Council said County Executive Ike Leggett's push for an ambulance fee was motivated by personal frustration after the downfall of one of his major legislative priorities in recent years.|
|"He has a bee in his bonnet," quipped Councilman Roger Berliner, D-Potomac/Bethesda, striving for a PG-suitable way to assess Leggett's feelings. "That's the best I can describe it for purposes of this conversation."|
|Leggett included the ambulance fee in his proposed budget for next fiscal year, even though county voters defeated the measure by referendum -- 54 to 46 percent -- in 2010.|
|Currently the council appears divided on the issue, meaning the measure could narrowly pass again -- which would likely start another voter referendum on the issue. - Brian Hughes|
The ignited vehicles have prompted a federal investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"I'm scared for all my seniors," said Deborah Gibbs, who drives one of the Champion buses on a nearly daily basis. "How in the world are they going to get off if there's a fire? They [the buses] shouldn't be on the road at all. They've been a problem since day one."
None of the fires caused injuries, but Montgomery County lawmakers Monday sought assurances that riders would be safe until the vehicles are pulled from the road during the next sixth months.
"The problem with the buses is that they have a collection of problems -- not just one thing," said County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large. "How do we give our people some confidence in these things?"
Unlike Montgomery County, Metro pulled nearly 100 buses off the road in recent weeks after one of its vehicles combusted for the second time in a week. Metro officials said they would use vehicles in reserve to avoid delays for riders.
But Montgomery leaders said they couldn't remove their vehicles without causing inconveniences for residents who rely on their fleet.
David Dise, director of the county Department of General Services, said officials inspect the vehicles approximately every 6,000 miles for maintenance -- and added that mechanics would detect a similar problem if one arose in the future.
"Would I ride on a Champion bus?" he mused. "Yes, I would."
But those with experience driving the vehicles didn't express such confidence.
Said bus driver Nelvin Ransome, "They're going to wait for somebody to get hurt. I have zero confidence in these buses."
For now, county leaders say they endorse the plan to keep the buses in service.
"Yes I'm concerned, but I'm not going to substitute my judgment for that of [the experts]," said Councilman Hans Riemer, D-at large. "They moved to replace them as fast as they can."