By Ryan Dean
(KSDK) -- From 2009-2011, hundreds of buses have been yanked off the road in the St. Louis metropolitan area because they simply were not safe enough, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol. Three-hundred and forty buses, had mechanical issues which the Highway Patrol said created an immediate danger to students riding on them.
The buses were flagged by the highway patrol during inspections. Each year, every school, public and private, has its buses checked at least once by the patrol. Some districts get a second, surprise visit from inspectors, called spot inspections. In this type of inspection, the patrol won't look at every bus, just a small sample.
"We show up on the lot, we pick the buses, we inspect them and that's the end of it," said Missouri Highway Patrol Chief Inspector Jeffery Towns.
A bus can fail inspection for a number of reasons. It's only taken off the road if the defect poses what inspectors view as an immediate danger. Some of those defects include major tire and brake defects, the stop arm not working, emergency door not operating correctly, red flashing lights that have gone out or an exhaust leak.
Highway patrol numbers show the districts with the most buses taken out of service from 2009 through 2011:
St. Louis Public Schools- 68 buses
Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation- 35 buses.
Rockwood- 28 buses
Francis Howell- 20 buses
St. Charles- 12
Some school districts had more inspections than others in that time period because of spot inspections. Also, the districts listed above happen to have larger fleets of buses compared to many schools.
According to districts' websites and conversations with administrators, the six districts that had the most buses out of service during the three years KSDK checked, all contracted at least a portion of its bus services with First Student, a national company.
See the statement from First Student under the related links
In all, nearly 50 metro schools or districts had at least one bus taken off the road from 2009-2011.
In most cases, buses taken out of service represent a small percentage of an entire fleet. When the Missouri Highway Patrol conducts an inspection, it lists a percentage of the buses pulled from service. For the story that aired Thursday evening, KSDK took an average of the percentages given to each school, when 10 or more buses were inspected in a fleet. Here is a list of districts with the highest out of service average:
Valley R6- 13% (8 buses)
St. Louis Public Schools- 9% (66 buses)
Ritenour- 9% (8 buses)
Winfield-9% (4 buses)
Some other districts KSDK looked at:
Francis Howell-7% (20 buses)
Kirkwood-5 % (4 buses)
Ladue-5% (5 buses)
Wentzville-5% (8 buses)
Rockwood-4% (28 buses)
Northwest-3% (12 buses)
During an interview, the Highway Patrol told KSDK, it's difficult for a district to go through an inspection and not have at least one bus removed from service.
"You have to keep in mind that we are talking about a mechanical operation; things break, things break down, things go out at a moment's notice," Chief Towns said.
The transportation director at Rockwood agreed. Bill Sloan said he feels it's unrealistic not to have a single bus caught with what the Missouri Highway Patrol classifies as an out of service bus.
"We run 150 miles in our district, two-million miles a year. You're going to have issues, we have all types of roads in our school district," Sloan said.
More than a dozen districts in Missouri with at least 10 buses in its fleet, did manage to pass all inspections from 2009-2011 without a single bus pulled out of service: Affton, Fox C-6, Grandview, Jefferson, Louisiana, Meramec Valley, Perry County, Pike County, Principia, Silex, Valley Park and Windsor.
All but two of the schools, don't contract out its bus services. Instead, the schools operate its own fleet. Fox C-6, which has the largest fleet (126 buses) from the list above, believes that's the main reason it has done so well.
"Contracting out bus service is fine for some districts, but it's something we don't do and we feel our service is better because we don't do that," said Todd Scott, Assistant Superintendent at Fox C-6.
That's not to say, some districts that contract out its bus services didn't have less buses out of service than some districts operating its own fleet.
To see your school district's bus inspection report, click on the related links under the image on this story. When viewing the annual and spot inspection results, "defective" means the bus did not pass inspection, but still could be driven because the defect is considered minor, but it needs to be fixed within 10 days. "Out of service" means that buses were taken out of service because of problems that pose an "immediate danger to passengers." The defect must be fixed before bus can be used again.