Montgomery County is considering legal action against the manufacturers of buses that caught fire at least six times in three years, while the county expects the Ride On bus service to continue to be reduced for the remainder of this week, after pulling those models from the road.
"I've asked our attorneys to look at whatever and all legal options we have," County Executive Ike Leggett told The Washington Examiner.
Montgomery County had 50 of the 2007 Champion/International-model buses, paying $175,479 per bus for the short-model buses that resemble airport shuttles. But Leggett on Wednesday called for all the remaining buses to be removed from service after a sixth fire occurred on that model bus since 2009.
"The number of incidents and the magnitude was such that I did not feel comfortable taking any additional risk," Leggett said.
Since the remaining buses were parked last week, Ride On has been operating on a reduced schedule due to a shortage of buses. Leggett said he expects what he called the "holiday plus" schedule to continue through the rest of this week at least, with some routes having normal service but others running fewer buses. The county will be getting more replacement buses in the next few weeks, while also increasing its maintenance staffing to turn around repairs faster on the rest of its fleet, he said.
It is not clear what type of legal action -- or against how many manufacturers -- the county could pursue. The county's interest in legal action was first reported by WTOP. The buses are made by at least two manufacturers, Champion Bus Inc. and Navistar Inc., with Champion making the enclosure and Navistar making the cab, chassis and most of the mechanical parts under the name International. Other subcontractors were also involved.
Champion did not return a call for comment.
"Navistar is committed to working with Montgomery County on their investigation," company spokesman Steve Schrier responded in an email.
Three fires on that style bus have occurred when the parking brakes were engaged, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
But in a May 18 letter to federal safety investigators, who are still investigating the fires, Navistar said it did not believe the brakes have any systemic defect.
"Navistar believes that when the system is adequately maintained, that the system will give adequate warning to the driver that there is a pressure loss in the system, and therefore the potential for the parking brake to come on," the letter said.
Navistar said it has had 48 claims filed against its warranty for the parking brake of the 263 buses made of that model. But Navistar said only two of the claims indicated the brake was engaged while the vehicles were in motion, and neither caused fires.
However, the letter also noted that an additional fire occurred on one of the Montgomery buses in May 2007 -- as it was being delivered to the county.