Marion Myers was 100 percent confident when more than 140 Richmond County school buses rolled out of the district’s maintenance yard about 5 a.m. Monday for the first day of class.
Much like Columbia and Aiken counties, the transportation supervisor had a good, dependable fleet.
Equipped with softer seat cushions, louder emergency buzzers, brighter signs and more powerful brake lines, each bus passed the Georgia Department of Public Safety’s annual 10-point inspection.
A decal taped to every vehicle’s front windshield showed the fleet was ready for the new school year and the 22,000 students in the district who ride the bus daily.
“You have to have safe equipment when hauling kids,” Myers said. “Our children are precious cargo.”
During the past year, about 20 officers with the state Department of Public Safety have made sure Georgia’s 20,000 school buses are safe, said Capt. Doug Ayers, the regional head of the department’s Motor Carrier Compliance Division.
Georgia law requires each publicly or privately owned school bus have its tires, brakes, exhaust systems, fluids, belts, hoses, headlights, marker lights, stop lights, and mirrors checked before transporting children.
Inspections take about 45 minutes and include a road test. Some districts keep state inspectors in maintenance garages for up to two weeks.
Dewayne Porter, the transportation director for Columbia County schools, said a public safety representative stayed in Evans at least 10 days to inspect the district’s 252 buses.
“The inspector went bumper to bumper – inside and out – checking every light, every buzzer and every seat to make sure all circuits, cushions and fluids were in good working condition,” Porter said.
Ayers reported no major problems in Richmond and Columbia counties, but area officials reported some minor issues in the two district’s fleets, whose buses range in age from 1988 to 2014.
Defective parts included malfunctioning turn signals and warning lights; jammed emergency hatches and buzzers; brakes in need of readjusting; and seats that were punctured or did not have enough padding across the bottom crossbar.
“Usually problems are fixed right there on the scene, because buses that are not free of defects cannot be cleared for travel,” Ayers said.
School officials in Richmond and Columbia counties said they have corrected the problems and, in accordance with Georgia law, are having their mechanics check the vehicles every 20 days. Drivers are also required to check buses before and after routes for problems.
“We try to take a proactive stance,” said Porter, whose fleet travels 14,000 miles and provides transportation services to more than 15,000 students daily.
In South Carolina – home to the country’s only state-run fleet – all buses must be inspected yearly and can’t transport students if issues remain uncorrected.
Buses in Aiken County’s school district travel more than 9,000 miles a day and transport about 10,000 students to and from school each day on school buses.
Wiley McDaniel, Aiken County’s transportation supervisor, said the 169-vehicle fleet is inspected seven times each fiscal year and go through an annual repair to fix any worn parts.
“We try to keep what we have running,” he said. “Everything looks good for the first of the school year.”